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heavily Catholic country, but this incident has sparked a fierce and highly necessary debate about women’s rights and outdated abortion laws in the Irish Republic.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.
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 All in the name of an outdated and misogynist law.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)