The case of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist from India who had moved, with her husband, to Ireland, continues to reverberate around the world. Halappanavar, an expectant mother, died after her doctors, citing Ireland’s legal prohibition of abortion, refused to remove her 17-week-old fetus, despite allegedly acknowledging that the fetus was not viable and placing Halappanavar in an intensive-care unit as her condition deteriorated.
Halappanavar suffered extreme pain on October 21. She was miscarrying, and, according to her husband, repeatedly asked for a termination after being told that the fetus would not survive. But Halappanavar and her husband were then informed that Ireland is a Catholic country; the fetus still had a heartbeat, so the procedure was out of the question. Halappanavar died from septicemia, which her family is certain would not have developed if the termination had been carried out.
The Halappanavar case thus reverses the Western stereotype of Eastern societies as preserves of superstition and religious extremism. Halappanavar’s death resulted from the fanatical, atavistic behavior of a Western theocracy, while Indian protesters and lawmakers have upheld the scientific, rationalist ethos of the Enlightenment. We in the West are so used to “our” religious fanatics that we rarely view them as we do the East’s religious fanatics.