News+Politics
Abortion Debate Reignited In Ireland After Woman Is Denied An Abortion In Hospital And Dies
November 14, 2012
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No doubt, abortion is one of the most contentious issues in society today.

We saw it during the U.S. election campaign. And today, the debate is making headlines in Ireland after the death of a pregnant woman.

Her name was Savita Halappanavar. Last month, she showed up at a hospital in Galway (in western Ireland) with severe back pain.

abortion-debate-reignited-in-ireland-after-women-is-denied-an-abortion-in-hospital-and-dies-feature1.jpg Within hours, her husband Praveen says doctors determined she was miscarrying, 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Over the next three days, he says his wife asked several times for the pregnancy to be terminated but doctors refused.

"Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby," Praveen told The Irish Times.

"When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning, Savita asked: 'If they could not save the baby, could they induce to end the pregnancy?' The consultant said: 'As long as there is a fetal heartbeat, we can't do anything.'"

"Again on Tuesday morning ... the consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: 'I am neither Irish nor Catholic,' but they said there was nothing they could do," Praveen told the paper.

He said his wife vomited repeatedly and collapsed in a washroom that night, but doctors wouldn't do anything because the fetus' heart was still beating.

"The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn't."

The fetus died the next day and was surgically removed. "When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That's the last time I spoke to her," Praveen said.

Within hours, he said his wife was moved to intensive care and sedated, as she was suffering from systemic blood poisoning.

A few days later, her heart, kidneys and liver had stopped working and she died.

Eventually, Praveen took his wife's body home where she was cremated and laid to rest.

The circumstances surrounding Savita's death only emerged this week.

abortion-debate-reignited-in-ireland-after-women-is-denied-an-abortion-in-hospital-and-dies-feature4.jpg The Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he's waiting for the results of two investigations into Savita's death.

The hospital and the government's Health Service Executive have both started investigations. As well, the Galway coroner is planned a public inquest.

Beyond that, the hospital says it can't discuss the details of any individual case. And it won't comment on whether Savita's life could've been saved if she'd received an abortion.

All of this highlights the confusion around the abortion laws in Ireland, which is a predominantly Catholic country.

Officially, abortion is illegal under legislation that dates back to 1861.

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But in 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled it should be legal in situations where a woman's life is at risk from continuing her pregnancy.

Since then, five different governments have refused to pass a law to clarify things once and for all.

So, Irish hospitals are reluctant to terminate pregnancies except when there's no doubt the woman is going to die.

And many women travel to England, where abortion has been legal since 1967.

But in a case such as Savita's - where a woman is having health concerns - there's no time to go to another country.

Today, opposition politicians called on the government to introduce legislation right away to make the '92 Supreme Court ruling part of statutory law.

Back in '92, a 14-year-old girl sued the Irish government for the right to have an abortion in England and won.

She had been raped by a neighbour.

After her parents reported the crime, Ireland's attorney general ordered her not to leave the country for an abortion, because it would violate Ireland's constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled she should be able to get an abortion in Ireland because she was threatening to kill herself if the state refused.

During the case, the girl reportedly suffered a miscarriage.

By coincidence, the Irish government received an expert report last night about possible changes to the abortion law.

The government commissioned it two years ago after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

It found that Ireland's inability to guarantee abortions in life-threatening circumstances violated European Union law.

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