Woman Dies from Miscarriage in Galway After Denied a Life-Saving Abortion

It is being reported that that a woman died on Sunday 28th of October in University College Hospitals, Galway, after it was found she was having a miscarriage, yet doctors refused to perform an abortion.

The woman, Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist who was married for four years and hoping to start a family, was 17 weeks pregnant. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said that she had been in severe pain and on discovering she was miscarrying had requested a medical abortion. She was told by doctors, “this is a Catholic country”.

Galway Pro-Choice released a statement:

Savita was first admitted to the hospital on October 21st complaining of severe back pain. Her doctor initially told her that she would be fine, but she refused to go home. It became clear that her waters had broken, and she was having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). She was told that the foetus had no chance of survival, and it would all be over within a few hours.

However, her condition did not take its expected course, and the foetus remained inside her body. Although it was evident that it could not survive, a foetal heartbeat was detected. For this reason her repeated requests to remove the foetus were denied. By Tuesday it was clear that her condition was deteriorating. She had developed a fever, and collapsed when attempting to walk. The cervix had now been fully open for nearly 72 hours, creating a danger of infection comparable to an untreated open head wound. She developed septicaemia.

Despite this, the foetus was not removed until Wednesday afternoon, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped. Immediately after the procedure she was taken to the high dependency unit. Her condition never improved. She died at 1.09am on Sunday the 28th of October.

Had the foetus been removed when it became clear that it could not survive, her cervix would have been closed and her chance of infection dramatically reduced. Leaving a woman’s cervix open constitutes a clear risk to her life. What is unclear is how doctors are expected to act in this situation.

There are a number of takeaways from this horrible incident, and much needs to be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Now is the time for detailed abortion legislation to be introduced in Ireland. It is unacceptable that a doctor can refuse to offer life-saving treatment on the basis of religion.

Choice Ireland spokesperson, Stephanie Lord said:

“Today, some twenty years after the X case we find ourselves asking the same question again – if a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether or not she has a right to a termination here in Ireland? There is still a disturbing lack of clarity around this issue, decades after the tragic events surrounding the X case in 1992.”

How honest, now, is the term “Pro-Life” to describe those fighting to prevent a woman’s right to make a choice on her body. This case has simply gone against what many people like to state, that women do not die in this day and age from pregnancies. They do.

In a piece in the Irish Times, John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, County Mayo, states:

‘Choose Life!’ – this is the campaign call of the Catholic bishops of Ireland to raise public awareness that every human life is beautiful and that every human life is precious.

The Constitution recognises “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect” that right. The clear intention, therefore, is to protect and cherish equally the lives of both the mother and her unborn child.

In fact, Ireland, without abortion, is recognised as one of the safest countries in the world to be a pregnant mother. This is something about which we should be proud and is a tribute to the excellent care provided by hospital staff who treat both mother and unborn child with equal dignity and respect as people in their own right. Clearly, if the life of the mother is threatened, by illness or some other medical condition, the care provided by medical professionals will make sure that she receives all the medical care needed.

As stated by the European Centre for Law and Justice:

Even considering the broad European consensus on abortion, the Court considers that it doesn’t limit the sovereign right of Ireland to prohibit abortion, because of “the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake” (§ 233)

Apart from those positive holdings affirming that there is no right to abortion, the ECLJ must strongly reject the erroneous assumption of the ECHR of the existing of a “lawful abortion in Ireland in accordance with Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution” Article 40.3.3, adopted by a referendum held in 1983, reads as follows and doesn’t recognize any right to abortion : “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” The Court’s interpretation of article 40.3.3, may lead to a forced recognition of a right to abortion.

Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar.

4 Replies to “Woman Dies from Miscarriage in Galway After Denied a Life-Saving Abortion”

  1. The death of Savita Halappanavar should provoke outrage in anyone truly concerned about the health of women.

    Hopefully the investigation will shed some light on why Mrs. Halappanavar was refused treatment for miscarriage, when this treatment is regularly administered in this country, and is allowed for by the law and by the Medical Council.

    The treatment she needed was legal, so there is no question that a change in the law is what is needed here. It is medical negligence that she was not treated urgently.

    In cases where the fetus is still alive, the Medical Council in part 21.4 of its guidelines for medical doctors states that treatment is allowed EVEN if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”.

    The treatment that Mrs. Halappanavar should have received is legal in this country. In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like hers. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law.

    I suspect that the medical council will strike off one or more people because of this and rightly so.

    The greatest thing we can do to honour Savita’s life is to insist on obstetric excellence – that is what saves women’s lives, not abortion.

  2. Irish law needs more detail on, for instance, the issue of whether or
    not an abortion is permitted where the mother may be suicidal.
    However, this was not a case of mental risk – this was a clear-cut
    case of unambiguous physical risk to the mother.

    In that scenario, Irish law is more than adequate. In the 1992 Irish
    case of Attorney General v X, the Irish supreme court stated that:

    “the law in this State is that surgical intervention which has the
    effect of terminating pregnancy bona fide undertaken to save the life
    of the mother where she is in danger of death is permissible under the
    Constitution and the law. The danger has to represent a substantial
    risk to her life though this does not necessarily have to be an
    imminent danger of instant death. The law does not require the doctors
    to wait until the mother is in peril of immediate death.”

    Ireland is a common law country. This means that judgments of the
    Courts (especially judgments of the Supreme Court) are binding law of
    the land, every bit as much as any statute. This seems to have been
    forgotten in the rush to assert that all Ireland need do is “pass new
    laws”.

    As the above extract should make clear, the law in this area is very
    clear already. It may be that the surgeons concerned were as legally
    ignorant as most of the commentators. In any event, the idea that they
    were “afraid to act” because the “law was unclear” seems to be a
    cop-out.

    The redress and the remedy here is one of possible medical negligence.
    Banging on about Irish law being defective in this area is
    mis-informed bandwagon jumping by people with a vested interest in
    attributing the failings of an individual hospital to the entire
    country; but the media narrative has already bolted.

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