Woman dies in Irish hospital after being denied abortion

KAREN KISSANE IN DUBLIN
Last updated 08:17 15/11/2012
Savita Halappanavar
The Irish Times
TRAGEDY: Savita Halappanavar's death has caused outrage.

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A young woman died of septicaemia in Ireland after doctors refused to terminate her miscarriage because abortion was against the country's law and religious beliefs.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, died last month in University Hospital Galway after three days of agony, the Irish Times reported overnight (NZ time).

Doctors told her she was losing her 17-week pregnancy, as her cervix had dilated and the amniotic sac had broken, and that the foetus would not survive.

Her husband told the newspaper she begged for birth to be induced but was told this was not possible because the foetal heartbeat was still present "and this is a Catholic country".

Praveen Halappanavar said that his wife, a Hindu, said, "I am neither Irish nor Catholic," but they said there was nothing they could do.”

Mr Halappanavar said his wife was left in extreme pain for another two-and-a-half days until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was then removed but Mrs Halappanavar was soon taken to intensive care where she died on October 28.

An autopsy determined she had developed septicaemia, or blood poisoning, the Irish Times reported.

The hospital and local health service confirmed they were investigating her death but said privacy issues prevented them from commenting on individual cases.

Abortion is a bitterly divisive issue in Catholic-dominated Ireland, where an effective ban on the procedure leaves thousands of women each year flying out of the country to get abortions overseas. More than 4000 go to the UK alone, according to British health statistics.

Stephanie Lord, a spokeswoman for Choice Ireland, said Mrs Halappanavar's death was a tragedy that would never have happened if Ireland's politicians had lived up to their responsibilities on the issue.

"There have been raped woman and suicidal woman [who have wanted abortions] and that has not been enough to make the government change the legislation regarding abortion in Ireland," she told Fairfax Media.

"People would ask if it had to get to the situation where somebody died. It should never have gotten to this stage. [Mrs Halappanavar's death] is an absolute tragedy, and it should have been prevented."

In 1983 Ireland's constitution was amended to ban abortion completely. In 1992, the country's Supreme Court ruled that it was permitted in cases where the mother's life was at risk, including at risk of suicide. This related to a case in which the government tried to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country to have an abortion overseas.

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The 1983 ban is effectively still in place because successive governments have refused to back the Supreme Court decision with legislation.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights demanded that Ireland pass legislation to give effect to the court decision. The government then set up an expert panel to report to the Irish Health Minister, who is due to respond by the end of this month.

A poll for the British newspaper The Sunday Times earlier this year found that four out of five Irish voters would back legal changes to permit abortion in cases where a mother's life was at risk.

-Fairfax News Australia

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