Data compiled by the United Nations Population Fund for their 2012 World Population Survey shows that Ireland is ‘performing well’ in regards to sexual and reproductive health. The official release of the Irish statistics coincides with the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway after her miscarriage was not terminated.
The data also shows that the adolescent (aged 15 to 19) birth rate in Ireland is 16 per 1,000 women. This relatively low figure compares with the global average of 49 per 1,000 women. However, it jumps up to 116 per 1,000 in developing countries.
Dr. Niamh Reilly, Co-Director of the Global Women’s Studies Programme at NUI Galway, spoke at the Irish launch of the report on Wednesday, where she made note of the progress Ireland has seen in sexual and reproductive rights for women.
“Recognition of the right to determine when, if and how many children we have is a relatively new and hard-won achievement in Ireland, and an unfinished agenda,” said Dr. Reilly.
“In the very recent past, our country was transformed once women – and the population in general – gained access to family planning.
“Undoubtedly, better access to family planning contributed significantly to the development of Ireland’s society and economy in the 1990s and early 2000s, as women’s participation in social, cultural and economic domains expanded hugely. Throughout the world, it has been demonstrated that increased access to family planning results in wide-ranging economic and social benefits.”
“The ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have is one of the most effective means of empowering women. Ireland’s recent history supports the evidence globally that women who use contraception are generally more empowered in their households and communities, and enjoy better health and educational attainment,” concluded Dr Reilly.
With 222 million women worldwide having an “unmet need for family planning,” the UNPF argued for increased family planning as a “sound investment.”
While Ireland does hold its own as compared to global averages, there is still room for improvement, with Savita Halappanavar’s recent and tragic death as proof. The 31-year-old Indian dentist died at University Galway Hospital after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, despite her showing symptoms of miscarriage.
Savita and her husband Praveen were reportedly told by doctors at the hospital that they could not terminate as the foetus still had a heartbeat, and that Ireland “is a Catholic country.”
Savita suffered for two days in agonizing pain of miscarriage before the foetus eventually died. The first time mother was then brought into the ICU, where she died of septic shock.
When asked if he thought his wife would still be alive if the pregnancy had been terminated when he and his wife first asked for it, Savita’s husband said “Yes of course.”
The tragedy has many calling for the re-examination of Irish law regarding abortion. Rallies gathered outside the Dail in Dublin, as well as outside the Irish embassy in London after Savita’s death.
However, Dr. Ruth Cullen of the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland said that using Savita’s rare example as a means to gain legislation reform is “deplorable.”
On Thursday, it was announced that a review will be conducted into Savita’s death. The HSE said “To further strengthen this review the HSE is in the process of appointing an independent, external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to the incident management team.”