Indian woman dies after being refused abortion

Savita Halappanavar’s death has renewed calls for Irish law to be modified to allow termination if mother’s life is at risk

November 15, 2012 10:59 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:14 pm IST - LONDON

Savita Halappanavar. Photo: The Irish Times

Savita Halappanavar. Photo: The Irish Times

A woman of Indian origin has died after doctors in Ireland refused to perform an abortion, telling her that “this is a Catholic country”, sparking widespread outrage and renewed calls for immediate reforms to the Irish law to allow termination if the life of the mother is at risk.

Savita Halappanavar (31), who was a dentist, was 17 weeks pregnant when she died from septicaemia, according to an autopsy carried out two days after her death on Oct 28. Her family said she asked several times for her termination as she had severe back pain and was miscarrying but doctors at University Hospital Galway refused on the grounds that abortion was illegal in Ireland.

Her husband Praveen Halappanavar said he was certain that his wife would have still been alive if the termination had been allowed.

It was her first pregnancy, he said, and she was “on top of the world” before she started suffering back pain. When the pain persisted, she asked her consultant if she could be “induced” but was told “no”.

“They said unfortunately she can’t because it’s a Catholic country. Savita said to her [consultant] she is not Catholic, she is Hindu, and why impose the law on her. But she said, ‘I’m sorry, unfortunately it’s a Catholic country,’ and it’s the law that they can’t abort when the foetus is [alive],” he said.

The hospital has launched an internal investigation in addition to a separate inquiry ordered by Ireland’s Health Service Executive.

Mr. Halappanavar recalled that Savita “was so happy and everything was going well” until she was admitted to hospital with back pain.

“On the Saturday [Oct 20] night everything changed. She started experiencing back pain so we called the hospital, the university hospital... I got a call at about half [past] twelve on the Wednesday night that Savita’s heart rate had really gone up and that they had moved her to ICU. “Things just kept on getting worse and on Friday they told me that she was critically ill.” Savita died on Sunday.

Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny did not rule out an independent inquiry as pro-choice groups demanded immediate changes to the law.

“It would be very appropriate that we don’t rule anything out here, but there are two reports and investigations going on at the moment,” Mr. Kenny said.

Ireland’s strict anti-abortion law means that women routinely go abroad for abortion. Earlier this year, the government set up an expert group to make recommendations in response to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights judgment that Ireland had failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother’s life was at risk.

Left-wing MPs Clare Daly and Joan Collins, who had introduced a bill in Parliament earlier this year to allow an abortion in specific life-threatening circumstances, said that had their proposals been accepted, Savita would have been alive.

“A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life.

“This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus — the woman was having a miscarriage — was given priority over the woman’s life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicaemia and died,” Ms Daly said.

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