The parents of Savita Halappanavar say they will never forget the moment their daughter first told him she was expecting a child.
Andanappa Yalagi and his wife Akkamahadevi, had flown to Ireland in the summer to spend three months with their daughter and son-in-law, Praveen. Shortly after hitting the tarmac, Savita told her parents she was five-weeks pregnant.
Her parents had had no inkling and were excited by the news, as early in the term as it was. If she herself was worried, Savita did not let them change their plans. “It didn’t stop them from taking us around Ireland. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and visited many tourist spots,” said Mr Halappanavar, 65, speaking today by phone from Belgaum, a town in the southern state of Karnataka, around 300 miles north-west of Bangalore.
Indeed, during their time in Ireland with Savita and Praveen, the family visited Dublin, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, on the west coast. And when it was time for her parents to leave on October 31, Savita called her parents even though she had gone into hospital for a back-pain check-up. “She was more concerned about us flying back to India,’’ added her father, a businessman.
Last week, it was the body of Savita, lying in a coffin, that made the journey back home to southern India. She was cremated last Friday, according to Hindu rites, just days before the family would normally have been preparing their home for Diwali, the festival of light.
The needless death of Savita has shocked India, a largely conservative country, but where abortion has been legally available since 1971 in cases of a rape, where the woman is unmarried and below the age of 18 and, most importantly, where the physical or mental health of the mother may be at risk.
Television channels and commentators have taken up the issue of whether religious beliefs should take precedence over the Hippocratic oath. A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Delhi said it deeply regretted her death and that the death of an Indian national in “such circumstances is matter of concern”. A spokesman added that the Indian embassy in Dublin was monitoring the issue.
The parents of Savita say they cannot understand why a termination was denied to their daughter. Savita’s mother said she hoped the publicity that her daughter’s case was receiving would help women in a similar circumstances, both in Ireland and elsewhere. “She almost begged them to terminate her pregnancy but the inhuman and cruel doctors there told her that as the foetus’s heartbeat was still faintly being heard, they could not do so. Eventually, we lost her too,’’ she added.
Savita, 31, who has two brothers, had gone to Ireland to be with her husband, whom she wed in an arranged marriage in 2008. Before leaving India, she had taken qualifying examinations that allowed her to practise dentistry. Her parents say she telephoned them every week, without exception
Savita’s husband’s, Praveen, who has also returned to India, today had his mobile phone switched off. His father-in-law, Mr Yalagi, said the family intended to launch legal action against the Galway University Hospital, where the young woman died.
“She could have been saved had the doctors removed the foetus,” insisted Mr Yalagi. “Their refusal on the ground that it was a Catholic country where abortions were banned resulted in two lives being lost.”
“I was on my own. I felt like it was a horrible dirty thing”
Like thousands of women from Ireland every year, Michelle, who became pregnant while on the Pill, travelled to England for an abortion in secret, with the help of the Abortion Support Network.
She told only her partner, her mother and her doctor of her intention, and after gathering enough money, arranging flights and child care for her son, she travelled alone.
“It was a very isolating situation. Some other girls at the clinic were greeted by family members afterwards. I was on my own and had to make my way back to the airport by train. I felt like it was a horrible dirty thing,” she adds.
“I can’t sit down with a friend over a cup of tea and tell her about it,” she says. “It shouldn’t be like that. You should be able to get on a bus or a train and make a choice over what happens with your body and then get back to your life.
“I would like to get on a stage in front of people who are anti-abortion and tell them ‘Even though it breaks my heart to do this, it has to be a woman’s choice’.”