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Religious beliefs should not influence abortion law

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The public discourse on abortion has long been at the center of political discussions about the role religious influences should play in governing a nation’s people even though the traumatizing experience is suffered by individual women.

Regardless of politicians’ belief systems, the consequences of personal values being inflicted upon a nation divided on such an issue is detrimental. The result is a diplomatic infringement on a woman’s control over her own body, which remains hers and hers alone until her child’s birth or, as we saw recently, until her own death.

Last month, we saw the extreme end of the spectrum of consequences when a pregnant woman in Ireland died because the country would not consider her life before that of her unborn child. Savita Halappanavar, 31, was admitted to a hospital because of a difficult miscarriage during the 17th week of her pregnancy. Because the fetal heartbeat was still present after her body had succumbed to infection, the doctors refused to heed her request to abort the fetus on the basis that “[Ireland] is a Catholic country.” Halappanavar, who practiced Hinduism and did not have a trace of Irish blood, passed away one week later — a casualty suffered to uphold a religious value that she had no part in.

Allegedly, if a woman’s life is at risk, Ireland will allow an abortion to be performed. But as we see in Halappanavar’s case, prejudice against the life-saving act inhibits the procedure from being carried out at an effective time. It appears as though physicians responsible for living, breathing female citizens consider their pregnant patients to be worth less than the developing fetus those women carry. Women are more than incubators for a future generation. They are contributing members of society who are cognitive enough to make their own decisions — not only in regard to building a family, but also in controlling their own belief system, rather than having one infringed upon their personal lives.

Halappanavar’s tragic death could have been avoided had religion been left out of the emergency room. This is an unfair and devastating example of the incredible danger of interlacing religion with the governance of a diverse body of people who should not be made to follow the often misinterpreted laws of a specific belief system. Halappanavar was a victim of someone else’s idea of a greater good and was yet another woman forced to fatally fold under the beliefs of men in power above her. From the doctors who made themselves blind to her deteriorating health to the politicians who allowed their laws to be riddled with religious doctrine, these male authority figures and their primitive opinions represent the repressive principles that strangle women everywhere.

The laws of any country should be enforced to protect its living citizens’ rights, not popular religious ideals, a strictly male perspective or a generation that has yet to come into existence. Halappanavar is a symbol for countless cases in which the protection of women’s lives is considered less important than upholding such values. As a result, women’s privacy is trespassed, their right to methods of birth control is trampled and their lives are directed — even forsaken — by values they do not necessarily share. Instead of sacrificing a woman’s right to hold primary control over her own livelihood for outdated and inhibiting beliefs, a country’s faith should be in its people and should seek only to improve the livelihood of all its citizens.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 27 print edition. Sasha Leshner is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]

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