Thirty-one-year-old Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland’s University Hospital Galway in October after she was repeatedly denied medical care while suffering a miscarriage.
Halappanavar, an Indian who lived and worked in Ireland with her husband, began miscarrying around October 24, 17 weeks into her her pregnancy. Her cervix had dilated, she was leaking amniotic fluid, and a doctor said the fetus would not survive outside her body. She had the “shakes,” was “shivering” and “vomiting” for several days. Halappanavar and her husband repeatedly asked to terminate the pregnancy, but the hospital refused, telling her “This is a Catholic country” and they could not perform an abortion so long as a fetal heartbeat was detectable. On October 28, Savita Halappanavar died of septicemia (blood poisoning) and E.coli ESBL.
Women in Ireland have had a right to an abortion if their life is at risk since 1992, after an Irish Supreme Court ruling. But today, Ireland’s Minister of Health announced the Irish government will introduce a new law to clarify specifically that abortions are legal when the life of the mother is at risk. However, the health of the mother will still not be reason enough for an Irish doctor to terminate a pregnancy. That is still unacceptable.
In the wake of Halappanavar’s death, it was not clear exactly who at the hospital determined she could not have an abortion, but the general consensus was that all the doctors were afraid they would be held criminally liable if they provided it. Hence why Minister of Health James Reilly clarified in a statement:
We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.
There are currently several inquiries into how Halappanavar’s death transpired, although none have come out yet. The call for new legislation on abortion by the Irish was the result of an expert study on how to clarify the current laws.
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