We Are All Savita Halappanavar: Catholic Hospital in Ireland Denies Woman Life-Saving Abortion


See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

Last month, a woman was admitted to a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with a wanted child. She was experiencing severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying the pregnancy.

Within days, she was dead.

Why? Because she ended up in a Catholic hospital, governed by an ethic that even a non-viable fetus doomed to die is more important than a living, breathing 31-year-old woman.

It really is that simple.

IrishTimes.com reports that Savita Halappanavar, a dentist, arrived at the hospital on October 21st. According to the story:

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination. 

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country.”

Indeed.

So, the story continues, “She spent a further 2½ days ‘in agony’ until the foetal heartbeat stopped.”

According to IrishTimes.com, Mr Halappanavar, speaking from Belgaum in the state of Karnataka, India, said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.

“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. 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 foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

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

The report goes on: “The dead foetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28th.”

An autopsy carried out by Dr Grace Callagy two days later found she died of septicaemia “documented ante-mortem” and E.coli ESBL.”

Someone’s daughter, wife, friend, perhaps sister is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable fetus was more important than her life. Because she was left to suffer for days on end in service of an ideological stance and religion she did not share. Because a wanted pregnancy went horribly wrong, and, because as must now be clear, there are people who don’t care about the lives of women. And there are others so invested in their uninformed misogynistic ideology that they claim there are no situations in which a woman’s life might be endangered by pregnancy. Like, say, the recently defeated Congressman Joe Walsh.

This case happened in Ireland. But it is not isolated. Just this past summer, a teen in the Dominican Republic died because she was denied chemotherapy for cancer. Countless others die every day, but without press coverage we just don’t see or hear about them. As Ipas notes, Women in El Salvador and Mexico have been put in jail for both abortions and “suspicious” miscarriages. Young girls in Argentina and Brazil, victims of violence and incest, have been denied safe abortion care. A total abortion ban in Nicaragua means that not only do women die for lack of safe abortion care, but that untold numbers of women and girls who are the victims of violence are forced to endure pregnancy and childbearing against their will. 

And if they have their way, anti-choice fanatics in the United States want this country to join these others in denying women their very personhood.  There is H.R. 3, the Let Women Die Act, passed in the last Congress by the rabidly anti-woman House majority. There is the “Sanctity Of Human Life [As Long As You Are Not Female] Act,” so strongly supported by recent Vice Presidential candidate and current congressman, Paul Ryan (R-WI). There are heartbeat bans, and bans on medication abortion, laws that force doctors to lie to women, and laws that force women to undergo unnecessary trans-vaginal and abdominal ultrasounds. There are attacks on Planned Parenthood and Title X, past and future. And in addition to the terrorism and accosting of women in evidence wherever safe abortion care is provided, there is harassment at clinics that do not even provide abortions.

These are the lives of your sister, your mother, your daughter, your aunt, your friends, and your colleagues. These are the lives at stake. These are the very people that the fanatical anti-choice and religious right see as “not people.”

They are all Savita Halappanavar.

We are all Savita Halappanavar. 

But we do not have to die at the hands of misogynists.

In honor of Savita Halappanavar; in honor of the nearly 22 million women worldwide each year who endure unsafe aborton; in honor of the 47,000 women 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.

Because she deserved to live. We deserve to live. We are people. 

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Follow Jodi Jacobson on twitter: @jljacobson

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Praveen Halappanavar should file murder charges and Munchausen by Proxy charges against the hospital, doctors and clergy. He should also file charges with the International Criminal Court, which is currently investigating global crimes by the Vatican. Irish citizens should boycott that mother-killing “hospital”.

  • fernanda

    All those anti-choice doctors, nurses, etc hated Savita just because she did not have a p*n*s.

    I am sure none of them is even slightly upset at her death; the “sympathy” they extended to the family of the woman who died under torture at their hands was obviously INSINCERE.

    That hospital’s staff are probably celebrating this **victory** now.

  • mrsdifficulty

    It looks as if the doctors at University Hospital Galway haven’t read the Hippocratic Oath

  • srhcrrll

    The death of Savita Halappanavar should provoke outrage in anyone truly concerned about the health of women.

    Hopefully the investigation will shed some light on why Mrs. Halappanavar was refused treatment for miscarriage, when this treatment is regularly administered in this country, and is allowed for by the law and by the Medical Council.

    The treatment she needed was legal, so there is no question that a change in the law is what is needed here. It is medical negligence that she was not treated urgently.
    In cases where the fetus is still alive, the Medical Council in part 21.4 of its guidelines for medical doctors states that treatment is allowed even if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”.

    The treatment that Mrs. Halappanavar should have received is legal in this country. In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like hers. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law.
    I suspect that the medical council will strike off one or more people because of this and rightly so.

    The greatest thing we can do to honour Savita’s life is to insist on obstetric excellence – that is what saves women’s lives, not abortion.

  • colleen

    This is what it looks like when the Catholic church exercises it’s ‘conscience’. Nothing says moral authority louder than being able to engage in torture and ritual human sacrifice with the public’s approval.

     

  • colleen

    Hopefully the investigation will shed some light on why Mrs. Halappanavar was refused treatment for miscarriage, when this treatment is regularly administered in this country, and is allowed for by the law and by the Medical Council.

    As far as I can tell the hospital said this is their policy because it is a Catholic hospital. The Church and it’s politicians are trying to pass simular ‘conscience’ exemptions here in the US. To be blunt, the Church wants to be able to kill pregnant women whose bodies cannot sustain their pregnancy by denying those women necessary medical treatment (an abortion to save her life)

    The Church and hospital understands that there are no legal impediments to saving the lives of women whose bodies cannot sustain a pregnancy, they simply choose to exercise what they call a conscience and kill us, usually after prolonged suffering. In order to change this y’all would have to make the law affirmative. The Church wants to kill women.

  • ldan

    Precisely. Even when the law allows for abortion when it threatens life (but not health) Catholic hospitals dither because of those conscience clauses.

    Additionally, when abortion is illegal, except when the alternative is death for the pregnant person, hospitals delay because they don’t want to be performing an illegal abortion when someone could claim that death wasn’t all *that* certain. Should we really have doctors weighing whether they’ll be arested if the chance of survival was better than some arbitrary percentage?

    One more reason why all the splitting of hairs over abortion is wrong. It’s between the person deciding whether to have one, and their doctor, plus whomever else they bring into the decision. There is no reason churches or legislators should be making these decisions.

  • veggietart

    I think the doctors at the hospital had their hands tied by the misogynistic Catholic laws of the country, a theology that values a dying fetus over a dying woman. That said, I think asking the ICC to bring charges against the Catholic hierarchy (after all, the Vatican is considered a nation, isn’t it?) might be workable.

     

    And perhaps Catholics should start boycotting their churches and finding another way to practice their faith until they get their house in order.

  • give-em-hell-mary
  • saphira

    I’m sorry, but you need to step back for a moment and grasp the article and the culture of Ireland before making such hateful statements.

     

    Ireland is a Catholic country and still retains a lot of Catholic doctrine as law. Divorce only became legal in 1996; abortion remains illegal. Most Irish women who want an abortion must travel to Northern Ireland to obtain one legally.

     

    The staff at this hospital likely have very different views on abortion, but their hands are tied by the law of the land. The idea that anyone would “celebrate” a “victory” in a case like this is just repugnant. Demonizing the other side just makes us demons ourselves.

  • saphira

    They almost certainly have read and sworn to the Hippocratic Oath. But if abortion is illegal, which it is in Ireland, there’s nothing they can legally do to help the mother. The doctors may have risked legal action if they had terminated the child. What would you do?

     

    This case is a prime example of why abortion should remain legal.

  • saphira

    It’s not that it’s a Catholic hospital–it’s that, as the article states, Ireland is a Catholic country and abortion is illegal there. The whole point of telling this story is to illustrate how making abortion illegal causes tragedies like these.

  • jodi-jacobson

    The staff’s hands were not tied. The law is in fact unclear, but a Supreme Court decision 20 years ago made clear that women in Ireland had the right to abortion in cases where their lives are endangered. If the medical staff wanted to act on behalf of the woman and there was ANY confusion, they could have turned to a judge for legal backup, though I would argue this is not needed.

     

    Moreover, what doctor lets a patient die before their very eyes from a PREVENTABLE cause?

  • give-em-hell-mary

    I hope the doctors and mother-killing priests get jailed over this.

  • anonranger

    Faith is personal. Religion is a tax exempt organized mob.

    As long as we have religion, we will have brain washing of people and more tragedies like this.

    Like the atrocities of human rights done by Taliban in the name of Islam, Abortion in the name of Christianity.

    Religions can never get progressive as they are based on man made mythology written hundreds of years ago.

    So I say I am an Atheist and end the next chain of brain washing of our children. This is my contribution to humanity.

    Peace.

  • john2006

    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/07/24/documents-shed-light-on-womans-death-after-abortion/

    Tonya Reaves, the Chicago woman, who died after complications from an abortion at Planned Parenthood clinic when abortion doctor waited 5-1/2 hours to call an ambulance.

     

  • big-softy

    The sad fact is that she was only a hundred miles drive from Northern Ireland, where she could have had proper medical care instead of being a victim of medieval Catholic misogyny.

  • jennifer-starr

    I’m sorry for anyone who dies from surgical complications. But it’s sad that you seem to feel no sympathy for a woman who died because doctors cared more about the life of a non-viable fetus than her life. 

  • colleen

    are not illegal in Ireland. This was a deliberate act on the part of the hospital and it was a deliberate act because the hospital was following the dogma of the Catholic church, a religion that devalues and uses women shamelessly and without regard for basic decency.

  • prochoiceferret

    Are You All Also Tonya Reaves?


    Yes, and we’re also 14.7 times more women who die from childbirth complications compared to abortion complications.


    when abortion doctor waited 5-1/2 hours to call an ambulance.

     

    Where did you get that bit of misinformation?

  • lisa1234

    Savita could not have availed of an abortion in the North because you may only get a termination up to 9 weeks in the Marie Stopes clinic.

     

    As much as it angers me the doctors were legally restricted in their ability to preform an abortion, whether they agreed with it or not. The legalities around carrying out an abortion in Ireland are gray. When the mothers life is at risk an abortion may be carried out, however, this is usually seen as at the imminent risk of suicide. Savita’s circumstances, barbarically, were not seen as life-threathening despite what happened as a result of her micarrage.

     

    I am ashamed to be Irish today and ashamed that the anti-abortion, religious bigots still reign so much power through our Constitution and over the well-being of the population.

     

  • thalwen

    This was murder. It was tragic, it need not have happened.

    I agree, the law needs to be changed. But this should be a warning to every person around the world that this is what happens when you have an anti-choice country and when you pass laws without understanding their logical consiquences.

  • saphira

    What an oversimplification. Sure, the Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago–but the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act still stands, and makes abortion under any circumstance a criminal offense. 

    And in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Irish law was likely to result in legal terminations not going ahead as a result of doctors’ fear of prosecution. The ECHR called for the law to be clarified, as “the criminal provisions of the 1861 Act would constitute a significant chilling factor for both women and doctors.”

    Pro-choice campaigners say this lack of clarity endangers women’s lives, linking Halappanavar’s death to it.

    “Two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled women have a right to an abortion if there is a risk to her life. The issue in this case is that doctors don’t know what to do,” says Sarah McCathy of campaign group Galway Pro Choice.

    I can see quite easily how the staff would have felt there was nothing they could do. I’d be willing to bet there were people attending her who wanted to do the right thing but felt that they would be in deep legal trouble if they did. Ireland needs to get its act together so this doesn’t happen again. You may be happy to blame individuals, but eventually, whether you want it to or not, it all comes down to Irish law presenting horrible consequences to those who would otherwise have taken very different action.

  • saphira

    Sure, the Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago–but the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act still stands, and makes abortion under any circumstance a criminal offense. It doesn’t much matter what a court says if they don’t strike the offensive law from the books.

    And in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Irish law was likely to result in legal terminations not going ahead as a result of doctors’ fear of prosecution. The ECHR called for the law to be clarified, as “the criminal provisions of the 1861 Act would constitute a significant chilling factor for both women and doctors.”

    Pro-choice campaigners say this lack of clarity endangers women’s lives, linking Halappanavar’s death to it.

    “Two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled women have a right to an abortion if there is a risk to her life. The issue in this case is that doctors don’t know what to do,” says Sarah McCathy of campaign group Galway Pro Choice.

    I can see quite easily how the staff would have felt there was nothing they could do. I’d be willing to bet there were people attending her who wanted to do the right thing but felt that they would be in deep legal trouble if they did. You (and others here) write like this was a deliberate attempt to take someone’s life in the name of a non-viable child, and I find that extremely hard to believe. As you point out, no doctor lets a patient die right in front of them–unless they feel they’ll be prosecuted for it.

     

    Ireland needs to get its act together so this doesn’t happen again. You may be happy to blame individuals, but eventually, whether you want it to or not, it all comes down to Irish law presenting horrible consequences to those who would otherwise have taken very different action.

  • georgia-lewis

    There are a few facts people are conveniently ignoring here.

    1. Ireland is not a “Catholic country”. Ireland is a republic with no official religion. Galway University hospital offers a chaplaincy service, as do many hospitals all over the world, but is not a “Catholic hospital”.

     

    2. A careful reading of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland reveals that even under the current restrictive abortion laws, Savita could have been entitled to an abortion as soon as it was apparent that her pregnancy was not viable. In 1983, the Eighth Amendment added the following paragraph to the constitution:


    “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” 

    So, based on that amendment, Savita’s foetus did indeed have the right to life, but it was determined when she went to hospital that she was miscarrying and was not going to be able to carry the pregnancy to full term. The foetus was never going to become viable. Tragically, the “due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” part of the amendment does not appear to have been applied to Savita when hospital staff were making decisions. By telling her she could not have an abortion because Ireland is a “Catholic country”, she got an invalid, non-medical excuse that completely ignored the country’s constitution.

    Here is my attempt to make sense of an awful, awful story: http://therantmistress.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/rip-savita-tragedy-that-was-always.html 

  • crowepps

    Doctors will also let a patient die right in front of them if their priest is insisting they will be excommunicate for intervening–

  • therealistmom

    There was a 5 hour gap between the initial abortion surgery and the second D&C… (which is not a ‘second abortion’ like that poorly worded article states), likely because she went home and later realized the bleeding was more than it should have been. If she had an early vacuum aspiration abortion, it would be quite likely she would already be home. (The article does not say if she was transported to the hospital from the clinic, or from her home.) The article also reports she had a “second D&E” which is kind of impossible, since that generally refers to dilation and extraction to remove a larger fetus. She had already had the abortion, a D&C to ensure all the uterine contents were removed would be the appropriate next step to contain bleeding. It is tragic… beyond tragic… that the perforation occurred, an extremely rare complication (.04% of vacuum aspiration abortions) and even more tragic that the hospital did not identify it.

    A tragic victim of an extremely rare surgical complication is not comparable to the situation in regards to Savita. Yes, we are all Tonya, as well. Tonya, however, was making the safest choice a pregnant woman COULD make (much, much safer than childbirth). It is terrible a young life was lost… in the same way it would be terrible if a life was lost during a wisdom tooth extraction, or a tonsillectomy, other minor surgical procedures where there still is always a risk. Savita was left to die painfully over a course of days to satisfy some sick idea that a doomed fetus was greater than the living woman. It could have been prevented. The doctors watched her die, knowing.

  • rita702
      An International Day of Action for Legal Abortion in Ireland following the tragic and unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar will take place on Wednesday 21st of November. There will also be a picket at the Irish Parliament, The Dail.

    Pickets will take place at Irish Embassies or central city locations across the world to register our disgust at the death of this woman due to the ambiguity around the issue in Ireland. Ireland’s abortion laws are antiquated and must be changed. This would never have happe

    ned if women had the right to choose. 

    Demand change now, picket your local embassy! http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=285

    IRELAND
    Rally at the Dail

    BELGIUM
    Vigil at 6pm at Irish Embassy, Chaussee d’Etterbeek 180, Bruxelles 1040, Belgium

     

    https://www.facebook.com/events/175080575964011/

  • rita702

    Hey, just so you know unortunatly sectarianism and bigitory in the North has left Ireland without legal abortion North ans South unfortunatly. 

  • veggietart

    Yeah, but in a medical emergency, your instinct is to go to the nearest hospital, not wonder which will provide you proper care if you need to terminate a nonviable pregnancy.  A hundred miles may not seem like much, but when driving, that’s more than two hours.  And even if she had known and had the presence of mind to ask to be transferred (or her husband thought to request), it’s possible the hospital may have refused.

  • elburto

    Both kinds of Irish women need to come here, to England, to get the healthcare they need and deserve.

    The Abortion Support Network and Women on Web can help Irish women who are facing unwanted pregnancy.

    http://www.abortionsupport.org.uk/

    http://www.womenonweb.org/

    Women on Web can be used from any country where abortion is illegal. They are a reputable, professional organisation.

  • armadillo17

    Do NOT get to call themselves “pro life.”

  • crowepps

    “This insistence hinges on a linguistic manoeuvre: there can be no such thing as an abortion to save a mother – simply because we choose to define such a procedure as not being an abortion. As one of the leading anti-abortion figures in Irish medicine, Prof Eamon O’Dwyer, puts it, “There is a fundamental difference between abortion and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.” In other words, abortions we approve of must not be called abortions.”

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2012/1117/1224326695598.html

    NOTE: The comments on the article pretty much prove this point, as there are repeated assertions that ‘when the woman’s life is in danger *that’s* not *really* an abortion and even ‘the Catholic Church doesn’t object then’ which is absolutely false, as Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix made clear. 

  • jason12

    Ireland is a nation ruled by catholic heretics.They consider women as enemies.They worship idols(praying/venerating mary/saints) in the sacred name of Jesus,thus blaspheming the most high God.The death of Savita is a prime example of religious extremism clouding sane minds.The only option is to destroy vatican and catholicism ,so that acts like killing saints of God for saying the truth that catholicism does idolatry,scientist like Galileo for saying earth is a Globe,challenging the catholic teaching that earth is flat,killing women calling them witches-all point to just one thing they are not led by Holy Spirit,but satanic spirits lead them.Catholic heresy will be extinct soon for God almighty whom they blaspheme with their lies/idolatry is real.

  • jason12

    Why do you “point your fingers” at northern ireland,when Irish Catholicism is the culprit here?Stop blaming someone else for your mistakes.

    True Christianity-non catholic,practiced in northern Ireland values women as human beings.Catholicism claims to be christian,but practices idolatry(intercession/veneration of saints),lies like purgatory,blunt rejection of abortion etc.True Christians rejected these idolatry and other lies.Since catholics had military power in “dark ages” they branded these true christians as gnostic heretics and massacred them. For more info visit worldharvest.blogspot.com

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