Irish Probe Woman’s Death on Report She Was Refused Abortion

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny
Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny said, “This is a case of maternal death where a child has been lost, a mother has died, and a husband is bereaved, that is a tragedy.” Photographer: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny will await the outcome of investigations into the death of a woman at a hospital before considering an independent inquiry following a report she died after being refused an abortion.

Savita Halappanavar died from septicemia and her husband said doctors had refused her request for a termination while she suffered severe pain and was told she was miscarrying, the Irish Times reported today. She was refused because a fetal heartbeat was present, the Dublin-based newspaper reported, citing her husband. The 31-year-old was informed she was in a Catholic country, he told the newspaper.

“This is a case of maternal death where a child has been lost, a mother has died, and a husband is bereaved, that is a tragedy,” Kenny said in parliament today. “Nothing is ruled out. It would be appropriate that we should consider those reports and decide what the best options are from there.”

The death has once again placed abortion center stage in Ireland, which restricts access to terminations. While women have a constitutional right to an abortion where there is a substantial risk to their lives, successive governments have avoided introducing laws putting it into practice.

“It clearly underlines the need for a change in the abortion laws,” Fiona de Londras, a law professor at Durham University in England, said in a phone interview. “It is a ludicrous situation. There is a clear need for legal guidelines to be introduced so that doctors know precisely when they are legally entitled to provide an abortion when requested.”

Protest Rally

The Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group said in a statement today that it is standard practice to review unexpected deaths. The review hasn’t yet started because the hospital is waiting to consult with the family on the terms of reference, according to the statement. The Health Service Executive is also carrying out a probe.

Anti-abortion campaigners rejected calls for new laws to deal with the issue.

“It is deplorable that those who want to see abortion available here are exploiting Mrs Halappanavar’s tragic death when the Medical Council Guidelines are very clear that all necessary medical treatment must be given to women in pregnancy,” the Pro-Life Campaign said on its website. “Given this, we welcome the fact that a thorough investigation to establish what went wrong is taking place.”

Protesters calling for laws plan a rally today in front of parliament, calling for the government to provide legislation on abortion.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights decided that while it accepted Ireland had the power over the availability of abortion, if there was a right to access to a termination then a system must in place to implement it, de Londras said.

Kenny said a report into the court’s judgment will be considered by the Health Minister and the government.

“Nothing we can say or do here will bring back Savita Halappanavar or indeed make up for the loss of a wife and child,” Kenny said.

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