It was the law, rather than doctors, who were to blame for the tragedy

Savita Halappanavar, the Indian dentist who died in an Irish hospital following a miscarriage, would probably be still alive had doctors agreed to her repeated requests for abortion, a leading Obstetrician told the inquest into her death.

Peter Boylan, clinical director of Ireland’s National Maternity Hospital and a former member of the government’s expert advisory group on abortion, said that Savita was ill enough to justify an abortion at least three days before she died of septicaemia.

‘Law to blame’

But, he added, that given Ireland’s strict abortion laws doctors were not legally in a position to carry out a termination unless there was a “substantial risk” to her life. It was the law, rather than the doctors, who were to blame for the tragedy.

“The real problem was the inability to terminate prior to Mrs. Halappanavar developing a real or substantive risk to her life,” Dr. Boylan said.

Because of the legal situation, Savita’s consultant at Galway University Hospital, where she was being treated, felt it necessary to take a second opinion on whether or not to carry out an abortion.

“By that time it was effectively too late to save her life,” he said.

Dr/ Boyle, who has been extremely critical of Ireland’s abortion laws describing them last year as “a sword of Damocles” hanging over his profession, said that on balance of probabilities Savita’s life could have been saved had doctors carried out an abortion earlier but it was not a “practical legal proposition”’ under current laws.

Last week, the midwife who treated Savita apologised for telling her that she could not have an abortion “because Ireland is a Catholic country.” But Ann Maria insisted that it was not meant to “offend” the patient.

Savita’s husband Praveen Halappanavar did not attend the inquest on Thursday because, according to his solicitor, he would have found the details of the post-mortem very disturbing.

Savita, (31), was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital on October 21 with severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying but according to her husband doctors refused to abort, citing Ireland’s strict anti-abortion law. A week later she died of septicaemia and E.coli.

Her death caused widespread outrage. The law has since been reviewed and the government is to bring in legislation to make abortion legal in certain circumstances.