Woman Tragically Dies After She Was Denied Abortion In Ireland During Miscarriage

savita ireland miscarriage abortion

A woman in Ireland has died after being refused an abortion, despite the fact that she was already undergoing a miscarriage. Abortion is illegal in the heavily Catholic country, but this incident has sparked a fierce and highly necessary debate about women’s rights and outdated abortion laws in the Irish Republic.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, came to the hospital at University College Galway on October 21 complaining of back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant and doctors determined she was suffering a miscarriage. She and her husband Praveen Halappanavar asked repeatedly for a termination of the pregnancy but their request was denied because a fetal heartbeat was still present. Because abortion is illegal in Ireland, doctors told Savita there was nothing they could do because of the law in the Catholic country. Reportedly, Savita, who was originally from India, told doctors that she was neither Catholic nor Irish, but they refused to terminate her pregnancy.

The fetal heartbeat eventually ceased two days later and surgery was carried out to remove the fetus. But it was too late; Savita died of septicemia (a serious and often-fatal infection of the blood) on October 28.

When asked by the BBC if he thought his wife would still be alive had she been able to receive an abortion (termination of pregnancy), her husband said:

Of course, no doubt about it. It was her first baby, first pregnancy and you know she was on top of the world basically. She was so happy and everything was going well, she was so excited.

Since her death, people in Ireland and the UK have been in an uproar, calling for an inquiryinto her death as well as an overhaul of Irish abortion policy. Savita’s death comes on the heels of a time of serious debate in relation to abortion in Ireland. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling found it should be legalized for situations when the woman’s life is at risk but according to the BBC:

The Irish government in January established a 14-member expert group to make recommendations based on a 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment that the state failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother’s life was at risk.

It certainly seems as if Savita’s life was at risk, so why couldn’t her pregnancy have been terminated, especially as it was clear that her fetus was about to die on its own? This is an incredibly sad and tragic situation, for Savita, for her family, and for the medical professionals who treated her (who are now undergoing an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death). Obviously, no doctor wants to cause a seemingly-healthy 31-year-old-woman to die, but by denying Savita an abortion, that’s essentially what they did. All in the name of an outdated and misogynist law.
I can’t sum up this terrible situation any better than Jodi Jacobson over at RH Reality Check, who wrote that “We Are All Savita Halappanavar”:

In honor of Savita Halappanavar; in honor of the nearly 22 million women worldwide each year who endure unsafe aborton; in honor of the 47,000women per year worldwide who die from complications of unsafe abortion and the estimated 10 times that number who suffer long-term health consequences; in honor of the millions of women who do not have access to contraception, who have no control over whether and with whom they have sex or and whether or with whom they have children, we can fight back. In honor of the young girls married young and the women forced to bear children long past the point they are able to care for more… for all these women, we must continue to act, to liberalize abortion laws, ensure every woman has access, remove the stigma, and trust women, like Savita, who know when it is time to end even the most wanted pregnancy.

Photo: internets_dairys on Flickr (photo of a pro-choice rally in London in 2008)

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    • Saschay

      I’m pro-life, but this didn’t need to happen. When a woman is undergoing a miscarriage, the baby is already lost. At that point you need to save the life of the mother. It would not even technically be an abortion, as the intent is not to kill the fetus but to save the mother. The miscarriage is simply a byproduct of saving the mother. Not an abortion.

    • LA Mama

      I don’t understand. Either the baby had died or the baby hadn’t died. If the baby had died, nature does have a way of doing this. If the baby hadn’t died yet, as seems to be the situation here, why the rush to have a D&C? Am I missing something?

      • Stellargirl

        My understanding is some miscarriages can be “incomplete”. So basically, the baby will not survive and in the process of dying is becoming toxic to the mother. This is, of course, is probably overly simplistic, and I am not a doctor. But I think this is one of those “the body didn’t do what it was ‘supposed’ to do” situations that requires medical intervention.

      • fig

        I am not a doctor either, but here is my understanding: When your body starts to miscarry, several things may happen: 1) amniotic sac breaks, 2) the placenta separates from the uterine wall, 3) the cervix opens, and 4) the body starts contractions trying to rid the body of the fetus and 5) the uterine wall begins to shed, much as occurs with your period…but much heavier. It is important to remember that miscarriages occurs because there has been some sort of a problem – it is not a perfect process.

        SO, Not all of these things happen successfully when a woman miscarries. All women who miscarry are advised to see a doctor after the miscarriage, and many will have a d&c to remove any remnants of the pregnancy to ensure the womans’ future health an fertility.

        In a case like the one in Ireland, it sounds like some of these actions happened: the cervix opened and the uterine wall began to shed. However, its likely the the placenta did not fully detach from the uterine wall, and that is why the baby still had a heartbeat. According to this hospital’s policy, that means no d&c. However, when your cervix opens, it means your uterus is exposed to many more of the germs in your vagina. Not an ideal thing. Your uterus is not equipped to resist bacteria the way your mouth, nose, or vagina are. This is why after 48 days of labor in a full term pregnancy, most women will have emergency c-sections.

        This sounds like a case of truly ignorant, and careless doctoring.

      • fig

        Ack 48 hours, not days.