New Yorkers show solidarity with family
Interest in Savita Halappanavar’s story won’t wane any time soon - if the trend of vigils cropping up worldwide is anything to go by.
After rallies in the UK and Ireland, New York is the latest in a line of cities where anyone moved by the tragedy of her death has gathered to show solidarity with her family.
“This isn’t just an Irish issue - international awareness exists around this human rights issue,” Max McGuinness, a Dublin-born Columbia University PhD student and one of the two vigil organisers tells The Irish Times.
Surrounded by dozens of like-minded people at a candlelit ceremony on the lawn outside Columbia University’s Barnard College, McGuinness says the goal was also to protest at the circumstances leading up to Ms Halappanavar’s death.
“It seems to be a direct consequence of the failure of consecutive Irish governments since the X case to produce a legal framework that would protect pregnant women’s rights,” McGuinness says.
“A show of global support is vital,” adds Barnard Professor Belinda McKeon, who organised the vigil with McGuinness. “The Irish Government needs to be reminded the world is taking this story seriously, and with the right kind of pressure they may finally act, ” she says, adding how Barnard College, traditionally a female-only campus, was the perfect setting to spotlight women’s rights being undermined by a lack of clarity on abortion in Ireland’s Constitution.
"I’m a woman and I’m an Irish citizen - I don’t think you need any other reason to take part in this,” she adds - a sentiment echoed by many women of all nationalities at the vigil.
According to the England and Wales department of health website, just under 4,500 women travelled from Ireland to the UK for an abortion last year.
“International pressure combined with the outpouring of rage and disgust here on our streets in Ireland could help us to protect Irish women as we need to be,” says pro-choice activist Sinead Redmond, who is eight months pregnant with her first child. “There are incredibly well-funded anti-women organisations who pour time and money into ensuring a continued control over women's bodies. It enrages me.”
Pro-life advocates, responding to unprecedented global attention to Ireland’s abortion legislation, have expressed concern that this case is sensationalising Ireland’s legal status quo.
“I'll condemn people who are using vigils for a political agenda,” says Chris Slattery, director of the New York-based "anti abortion without exception" group called Expectant Mother Care. “I'm not trying to sound callous, her death is a tragedy, but I doubt an abortion would have prevented it. No good doctor would say that an abortion is medically necessary to save a mother’s life.”
Slattery did not attend the Barnard vigil today, saying any pressure put on the Irish Government to legalise abortion was “just a pretext to deliver it on demand”.
But most at the vigil disagree: “The world is making a case on our behalf, and this is about our equality as citizens,” says Columbia graduate Jordan Hewson. “This is for our rights and access to life, health and dignity through Irish law. It’s incredibly moving and empowering to witness the support for Irish women here today."