Pregnant woman dies in Ireland after being denied an abortion
A woman died after she was refused an abortion at an Irish hospital whilst undergoing a miscarriage, it emerged yesterday.
Savita Halappanavar, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she developed back pain and tests revealed that she would lose her baby.
But despite her repeated pleas over three days, doctors refused to perform a termination as they could still hear the foetus’s heartbeat, reportedly telling her: "This is a Catholic country."
Mrs Halappanavar’s condition rapidly deteriorated and she died after developing septicaemia four days after the death of her baby.
The case has prompted renewed calls for the Irish government to legislate for abortion, with pro-choice campaigners branding her death “an outrage”.
James Reilly, Ireland’s health minister, sought a report on the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and Galway University Hospital prepared to launch its own investigation.
Mrs Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, expressed astonishment that his Hindu wife, a dentist, died.
“It’s very hard,” he told the Irish Times. “It has been a terrible few weeks, very hard to understand how this can happen in the 21st century, very hard to explain to her family.”
The couple, who moved to Ireland from India in 2008, had been over the moon when they discovered they were expecting a baby, he disclosed.
Mr Halappanavar, 34, said everything had been fine until his wife developed back pain on Saturday October 20.
They went to the hospital the following morning but after a series of tests, were told nothing was wrong and sent home again.
However, they returned to the hospital just half an hour later after Mrs Halappanavar became increasingly concerned.
Her husband, an engineer employed by Boston Scientific in Galway, said that they were once again told there was no cause for concern but demanded to see a doctor.
A further examination revealed that the cervix was fully dilated and there was no way the baby would survive.
Mr Halappanavar said his wife repeatedly asked for a medical termination but was told it was impossible as long as there was a foetal heartbeat.
“Savita was really in agony,” he said.
“She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.”
Eventually, on the Wednesday lunchtime, the foetal heartbeat stopped and Mrs Halappanavar was taken into theatre.
When she regained consciousness, she spoke briefly to her husband for the last time.
That night, she was rushed to intensive care but her heart, liver and kidneys stopped functioning and she died in the early hours of Sunday October 28.
Mr Halappanavar said yesterday that he had decided to speak out about the case to try to prevent it happening again.
In 1992, Ireland’s Supreme Court ruled that abortion should be allowed if the mother’s life was in danger but the law has never been changed, forcing thousands of women to travel abroad for terminations every year.
Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, came under renewed pressure to legislate for abortion yesterday but said he would await the results of reviews into Mrs Halappanavar’s death by the hospital and by the Health Service Executive.
Rachel Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Galway Pro-Choice campaign group, said the case highlighted the need for legal change.
"This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner,” she said. “Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences.”