Tragedy ... Savita Halappanavar's death has caused outrage. Photo: The Irish Times
A young Indian woman died of septicaemia in Ireland after Catholic doctors refused to terminate her miscarriage because abortion was against the country's law and religious beliefs.
Savita Halapanavar, 31, died last month in University Hospital Galway after three days of agony, the Irish Times reported on Wednesday.
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 paper 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 Savita, 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. Then the dead foetus was removed but Savita was soon taken to intensive care where she died on 28 October.
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 Savita’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 The Age/The Herald.
“People would ask if it had to get to the situation where somebody died. It should never have gotten to this stage. [Savita’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, ‘X’, from leaving the country to have an abortion overseas. “The state was going to force a child to bear a child for her rapist,” said one commentator at the time.
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 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.
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