In many ways, the story of Ireland’s decision to repeal the Eighth Amendment and liberalise their abortion legislation started in a hospital bed in Galway.
With a woman named Savita Halappanavar, who was 31 years old and 17 weeks pregnant.
On Friday, 66.4 per cent of voters in the Republic of Ireland chose to remove the part of their constitution which stipulates that a mother and her unborn baby have an equal right to life. In the wake of that vote, activists and Savita’s family and friends are calling for the new legislation to be named ‘Savita’s Law’, in honour of the woman who died from a septic miscarriage in October, 2012, after being denied an abortion.
While it remains a matter of contention in public discussion in Ireland, many experts, including the professor who authored the official investigation into Savita’s death, believe “if the legislation had been different, Savita’s case would not have happened”.
And now, many feel that without Savita’s tragic death, Ireland might not have held a referendum to change that legislation.
It was a Saturday night in October 2012 when Savita Halappanavar started to experience severe back pain.
The following morning, just after 9.30am, the Indian-born dentist and her partner Praveen arrived at Galway University Hospital. Savita was examined and discharged, with a plan in place to relieve her pain. But later that afternoon, the couple returned, with Savita insisting she had “felt something coming down”, which she had tried to push back in.
Doctors believed she was either miscarrying or about to miscarry, and judged that losing the pregnancy was inevitable.
By this stage, Savita was distressed and in agony, and was moved to a private room. Doctors determined there was still a foetal heartbeat, and decided to “wait for the natural outcome of events”.
That night, Savita started vomiting violently. The bag of membranes around the foetus burst and the fluid was leaking.
On Tuesday morning, Savita and Praveen asked if it would be possible to medically induce the miscarriage. Days later, Praveen would tell the media that a midwife told them the procedure couldn't be carried out because Ireland is a "Catholic country".
By Wednesday morning, Savita's condition had deteriorated. She was diagnosed with chorioamnionitis (an inflammation of the foetal membranes due to a bacterial infection), and within hours, she was experiencing chest pain and having trouble breathing.
That afternoon, she was diagnosed with septic shock. Doctors decided to administer a drug used to induce delivery, but Savita delivered spontaneously before they had a chance.
In the days following, she became critically ill. In the early hours of Sunday morning, she suffered a cardiac arrest, and less than 30 minutes later, she was pronounced dead.
Savita's husband, Praveen, was particularly outspoken about the injustice of her death, telling the media the story of his wife's ordeal in great detail.
In response, thousands of people all over Ireland participated in candlelit vigils and protests, and activists called for urgent changes to the law. It was the story that captured the attention of the Irish people, and put a face to the reality that had for so long gone unspoken.
In 2013, the inquest recorded a verdict of 'medical misadventure', and the University Hospital Galway apologised to Praveen Halappanavar.
Last week, a mural of Savita appeared in Dublin. Flowers and handwritten notes were placed there - many saying it was the tragedy of her death that had compelled them to vote.
One of the notes simply said, "Sorry we were too late but we are here now, we didn't forget you."