14 Nov 2012

Woman dies in Ireland after abortion ‘refused’

The husband of a pregnant woman who died in Ireland after being refused an abortion tells Channel 4 News he “strongly believes” that she would be alive had doctors terminated the pregnancy.

Warning: viewers may find some of the details in the above video report upsetting

Savita Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, died on 28 October after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, 34, says she had complained of being in agonising pain while in Galway University Hospital.

But doctors said they could not terminate the pregnancy while there was still a foetal heartbeat and that Ireland is a “Catholic country”.

Speaking from Goa, India Mr Halappanavar told Channel 4 News that he “strongly believes” his wife would still be alive if she had been granted a termination.


Pro-choice campaigners say Savita Halappanavar’s death shows that change is essential warning “more women will die” if legislation is not introduced immediately.

Abortion was illegal in Ireland under all circumstances until the “X” case in 1992 when a 14-year-old girl, who was suicidal, was prevented from leaving the country to have a termination after she was raped.

The Irish supreme court ruled that there was a constitutional right to an abortion where there was a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother, but no legislation has ever been introduced.

In another case in 2010 the European court of human rights judged that Ireland had failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother’s life was at risk.

Reacting to Ms Halappanavar’s death, Galway Pro-Choice spokesperson Rachel Donnelly said: “This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner.

“Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences.”

It is deplorable that those who want to see abortion available here are exploiting Mrs Halappanavar’s tragic death. Dr Ruth Cullen, Pro Life Campaign

A protest has been planned for the front of the Dail parliament on Wednesday evening and a Facebook page has been set up by pro-choice campaigners.

But the Pro Life Campaign says Savita Halappanavar’s death is being “exploited” for political reasons.

Dr Ruth Cullen told Channel 4 News: “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.

“Given this, we welcome the fact that a thorough investigation to establish what went wrong is taking place.

“It is also vitally important to acknowledge at this time that Ireland, without induced abortion, is recognised by the UN and World Health Organisation as a world leader in protecting women in pregnancy and is safer than places like Britain and Holland where abortion is widely available.”

Investigations underway

Investigations into Mrs Halappanavar’s death have been launched by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group and the state’s health officials.

A spokesman for the hospital said: “Firstly, the Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group wishes to extend its sympathy to the husband, family and friends of Ms Halappanavar.”

The Galway hospital said medics have carried out all standard practices in notifying the death to the coroner, informing the Health Service Executive and completing a maternal death notification.

“It is standard practice to review unexpected deaths in line with the HSE’s national incident management policy,” it said.

“The family of the deceased is consulted on the terms of reference, interviewed by the review team and given a copy of the final report.”

The spokesman added that the hospital was waiting to consult Mrs Halappanavar’s family on the terms of reference before beginning the review.