Savita Halappanavar Dies in Irish Hospital after Denial of Life-Saving Abortion
A woman denied a timely termination of her pregnancy has died of blood poisoning in Ireland, renewing the debate over legalizing abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.
The Irish Times reports that Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who immigrated to Galway from India four years ago, died on October 28, a week after being admitted to University Hospital Galway complaining of back pain.
While hospitalized, Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was informed that she was miscarrying. Husband Praveen Halappanavar, 34, said Savita, who was suffering from severe pain, repeatedly requested that doctors terminate her pregnancy. Hospital staff refused her request because her fetus still had a heartbeat and because, they told her, “this is a Catholic country.”
Savita’s health was rapidly and visibly deteriorating, but she was still denied the life-saving procedure.
“Savita was really in agony,” Praveen told the Irish Times.
Abortion remains illegal in Ireland, although in 1992 the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the procedure could be performed in cases in which the mother’s life was endangered. The Associated Press reports that five governments have passed the buck on passing a law to comply with the high court’s ruling, causing hospitals to rarely grant permission for abortions unless patients are clearly about to die.
Savita was finally allowed to have an abortion two and a half days later after her fetus’ heartbeat stopped. The dead fetus was removed and Savita was moved to an intensive care unit. She died of septicemia and E. coli ESBL a short time later.
Agence France-Presse reports that both the Irish government and University Hospital Galway are investigating Savita’s death.
Opposition politicians urged the government of center-right Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny to pass a law making the 1992 Supreme Court ruling statutory law. Until this is done, Ireland is still bound by a more than 150-year-old law dating to the time of British rule which criminalizes “procuring a miscarriage.”
Irish pro-choice advocates said Savita’s tragic case underscores the need for legal change.
“This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner,” Galway Pro-Choice spokeswoman Rachel Donnelly told AFP. “Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences.”