Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to an Irish hospital on October 21st, complaining of back pain.
One week later she was dead.
When she arrived at the hospital, doctors told 31-year-old Savita that she she appeared to be losing her baby. Savita then asked if she could have the pregnancy induced if it was going to be impossible to save the baby regardless. She asked if she could access a medical termination. To save her life.
And the doctors refused.
Savita was informed by the doctors that they were legally unable to perform the termination because the foetus still had a heartbeat. “This is a Catholic country,” they told her.
Savita soon became critically ill and was transferred to the intensive care unit where she later died of septicemia (blood poisoning triggered by infection).
Her husband told the media: “Savita was really in agony…She was very upset but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.”
An unnecessary death like this, is the kind of story you’d never expect to hear out of a developed country like Ireland. But abortion remains a fiercely contested issue in Ireland. While other aspects of life in the country have become increasingly secularised, legislation surrounding abortion remains strongly coloured by the country’s Catholic heritage.
The Constitution of Ireland states that the unborn have an explicit right to life from the time of conception.
Since 1992, women seeking an abortion within Ireland have been given the ‘right to travel’, which usually involves women leaving their families to travel to the closest major English city, Liverpool, where abortion is legal.
An estimated 4000 Irish women travel to England every year to access abortion services.
Galway, which is in Ireland’s west and is where Savita Halappanavar was from – is 400km from Liverpool.
Ireland is currently under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights to reconsider their stance on abortion. The EU member state was given the direction in 2010, but legislative change is yet to occur.
A mass protest of over 2000 people was held outside Ireland’s parliament, the Dail, yesterday in response to Savita Halappanavar’s death calling for a reform of Ireland’s abortion laws.
This from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Many distressed protesters outside the Dail held candles in her memory, and there were emotional scenes as speakers condemned the government for having earlier rejected abortion-law reforms tabled by United Left Alliance MP Clare Daly.
“Had that legislation been in place, Savita’s life would have been saved because doctors at University Hospital in Galway would have had a very clear understanding of legal guidelines,” Choice spokeswoman Stephanie Lord later told Fairfax Media.
“People are very angry and upset that this woman had to die before anyone would take notice. There have been women who have been raped and suicidal or who have had horrendous medical conditions and now this young woman has died — why has it got to this stage?”
Recently, Northern Ireland opened its first abortion clinic. We ran a post from the clinic’s director here. It’s a start. However small. And hopefully developments like this clinic will mean fewer women die in the agony and distress that Savita did.