Death in Ireland is a Wake Up Call to Fight Bans on Later Abortion Here at Home

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

Recent press about the death of Savita Halappanavar, admitted to a hospital in Ireland with medical complications in a 17-week pregnancy, is a grim reminder about the impact of abortion restrictions on women’s lives.

In Ireland, abortion is legal only to save a woman’s life. In the last two years in the United States, nine states have passed laws banning abortion after 20 weeks (in Arizona abortion is banned after 18 weeks) except to save a woman’s life. But as the death of Ms. Halappanavar so poignantly illustrates, “risk to a woman’s life” in emergency situations is extremely difficult to assess.

Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old, and had a wanted pregnancy. She began suffering severe back pain, was admitted to the hospital and was told that she was miscarrying. As the pain increased and her health worsened, she and her husband requested that the pregnancy be terminated. Because the fetus still had a heartbeat, however, she was denied her right to a safe abortion. After three days in the hospital, Savita Halappanayar died. The doctors attending her did not determine that her life was sufficiently at risk to warrant performing an abortion.

Could this happen in the United States? In short, it certainly could. Let’s remember the 1988 case of Michelle Lee, a resident of Louisiana who had a serious heart condition and was waiting for a heart transplant. She became pregnant, and because of her medical condition could not be seen at an outpatient abortion clinic. She was sent to the only hospital in Louisiana with appropriate services, Louisiana State University. However, as reported at the time:

A committee of five LSU doctors concluded that Lee’s chance of dying was not greater than 50 percent. And under Louisiana law, a public hospital could not perform an abortion on Lee unless her life were endangered. They decided her case didn’t meet the test.*

What must the chance of dying be for a woman to “qualify” for a life-saving abortion? In Louisiana, a 50 percent chance of death was not enough. Who knows how the doctors in Ireland assessed the risk to Savita Halappanavar?

In the states that have passed limits on when an abortion can be performed, lawmakers are expecting physicians to juxtapose their assessment of medical risk to a given woman with the legal risk of prosecution if, after the fact, there are “second guesses” about whether the woman was at sufficient risk to trigger the legal exception the abortion ban.  This untenable intrusion of law makers into medicine puts physicians into an impossible situation. 

We have a sobering lesson to learn from Ireland – when doctor’s medical judgement is compromised by restrictive abortion laws, it is women’s health and women’s lives that suffer.

*Activists mobilized and raised $8,000 to help Michelle Lee get a life-saving abortion in Texas. Today, Texas is one of several states considering a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in the next legislative session.

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  • 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!
    Rally at the Dail

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

  • veggietart

    Do you know if there is one at the Irish Embassy in DC?

  • jennifer-starr

    Reading an article from someone named John Smeaton and shaking my head in disbelief. From said article (see link) : 

    In other words, premature delivery of non-viable children violates their right to life. Pro-life and Catholic commentators should take care not to deny that truth nor promote such inducing as an ethical response to medical emergencies.

    Okay, here are the facts  :

    1. There was no way that this pregnancy could have been saved. Either way, this woman’s fetus was going to die. 

    2. Inducing labor would have  given Savita Halappanavar a better than average chance of survival–barring something completely unexpected she would be alive and probably able to try for another pregnancy. 

    3. The so-called ‘Pro-Life’ method almost certainly ensures the death of both fetus and mother. Both die. No one is left alive. 

    4. In what universe is #3 Pro-Life??? 

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Their “Pro-Life” is RCC “1984” Orwellian Newspeak for Pro-Death.

  • veggietart

    Is John Smeaton an idiot or just a fetus worshipper?  Hello, the fetus is nonviable.  That means it’s not going to live so there is no “right to life” to violate.  Premature delivery may shorten their lifespan by days or weeks, but if you let the pregnant woman die, the fetus isn’t going to live!  And what about the pregnant woman’s right to life?  I hope this guy isn’t married; I’d hate to think he’d sacrifice his wife on the altar of the Sanctity of (fetal) Life.

  • crowepps

    “It is not better to save one life while murdering another. It is not better that the mother live the rest of her existence having had her child killed.”

    It’s apparently better for them BOTH to die, just so there’s no female SELFISHNESS involved.

  • veggietart

    Especially scary is the woman who agrees with that jerk of a bishop who would rather see a woman die, a man widowed, and four children orphaned than she end a nonviable pregnancy.  I guess this means Olmstead opposes killing in self-defense.  And Jenn Giroux, if your life is on the line, you can choose to die and leave behind grieving family members so you never “murder” a fetus–but remember, that fetus will die as well.