Following the recent leak of documents suggesting that the Supreme Court could soon overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, putting abortion rights and access at risk, social media users are remembering the story of Savita Halappanavar.
The 1973 decision, in which the Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects a pregnant individual’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without government restriction, outlawed many U.S. federal and state abortion laws. On Monday, Politico released the draft of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in favor of overturning the historic case. The leak marked the first time that a Supreme Court draft decision in a pending case was publicly disclosed.
In the leaked draft, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”
The SCOTUS issued a press release the next day confirming the authenticity of the leaked document, but stated “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.” Discussions about the draft on social media resurfaced the tragic story of Savita Halappanavar, a dentist in Ireland of Indian origin who died from septicemia (sepsis) in 2012 after being denied an abortion.
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Asian American Feminist Collective co-founder Senti Sojwal shared a link to a 2018 article she wrote about Halappanavar’s death and tweeted:
“In 2018, I wrote abt how the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar galvanized a generation of Irish abortion rights activists to fight for & win their repro freedom. I’m thinking about Savita’s legacy and what we can learn from advocates around the world.”
Jo Kaur, the founder of research nonprofit Riaan Research Initiative, wrote on Twitter:
“On nights like this I can’t help but think of Savita Halappanavar, a beautiful 31 year-old dentist who died at 17 weeks pregnant after being denied an abortion in Ireland because it was illegal then. She died of sepsis bc they wouldn’t abort. How many Savitas will die in the US?”
Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks into her first pregnancy at the time, was brought to a hospital on October 21, 2012, after experiencing lower back pain.
She was admitted after doctors determined her pregnancy was going to fail due to complications. A day later, her water broke but the fetus was not expelled.
On October 23, Halappanavar and her husband discussed the possibility of abortion after the doctors confirmed that a miscarriage was inevitable.
Her request for an abortion was refused, as Irish law at that time prohibited abortion if a fetal heartbeat was still present. By the time the doctors finally removed the fetus after its heartbeat stopped on October 24, Halappanavar had already developed an infection and succumbed to it a day later.
Savita’s death sparked national outrage and an outcry for change. An investigation by an independent body found that there was “an apparent over-emphasis” by the hospital staff on waiting for the fetal heartbeat to stop and less emphasis on monitoring Halappanavar’s health risk.
In December 2018, abortion was legalized in Ireland with the passing of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. The 1983 Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which barred women from undergoing an abortion, was finally repealed.