Inquest Confirms Savita Halappanavar’s Life Was Subordinated to Non-Viable Fetus

Last year, RH Reality Check reported on the tragic and wholly preventable death of Savita Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital. Halappanavar, a dentist who was pregnant with her first child, was admitted to the hospital with severe back pain. She was in the midst of miscarrying a non-viable fetus in a much-wanted pregnancy.

Over the course of three days, Halappanavar experienced an incomplete miscarriage that resulted in a life-threatening infection and unbearable pain. Halappanavar and her husband begged doctors to terminate the pregnancy. The doctors refused because, as she was told by the hospital’s midwife manager, Anna Maria Burke, “Ireland is a Catholic country.”

And in that Catholic country, where a woman’s life is secondary to a non-viable fetus, the woman died.

Now, a report by the Health Service Executive has concluded, according to the Irish Times, that there was “an overemphasis by hospital staff on the welfare of Ms Halappanavar’s unviable foetus and an underemphasis on her deteriorating health.”

As reported by the Times, the report says, “The investigating team considers there was an apparent overemphasis on the need not to intervene until the foetal heart stopped, together with an underemphasis on the need to focus an appropriate attention on monitoring for and managing the risk of infection and sepsis in the mother.”

The final draft of the report did not mention the widely quoted comment by Burke about Ireland being a “Catholic country” where doctors would not end a miscarriage, but Burke admitted to saying this during testimony.

Reading reports of testimony provided during the inquest left me feeling the panicked helplessness I can only imagine that Praveen Halappanavar felt as his wife lay dying from a preventable and treatable condition that was treated as subordinate to a pregnancy that could not succeed. Reading the details of their ordeal is difficult even for a complete outsider.

According to both the timeline of Halappanavar’s “care” and reports by clinicians who evaluated the records, it is clear that infection had already set in when Savita was admitted to the hospital, but tests revealing elevated white blood counts were “not immediately relayed” to her doctors.

According to experts interviewed by the Times, the key issues arising from the report revealed that “on admission to the Galway University Hospital on Sunday, October 21st, Ms Halappanavar’s white blood-cell count was elevated, which indicated her body was fighting an infection.”

It finds her vital signs were inadequately monitored; that she was seriously ill by the evening of Tuesday 23rd, but that this was not acted on; that her team saw her on the morning of Wednesday 24th and she had further deteriorated, and still this was not acted on adequately; that further blood samples were not taken until later that day and that the High Dependency Unit did not get involved until the Wednesday evening, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped.

In a subsequent article, the Times reports that Dr. Susan Knowles, a consultant microbiologist at the National Maternity Hospital who testified at the inquest, “was also critical of poor documentation at a critical time in Ms Halappanavar’s care on Wednesday, October 24th last.”

Moreover, the report notes that “the possibility of performing an abortion was discussed by the medical team on the Wednesday. Mr Halappanavar was unaware this had been discussed. The couple’s request for a termination on the Tuesday is acknowledged in the report, but not in Ms Halappanavar’s medical notes.”

So doctors and nurses knew they had a non-viable fetus, they knew they had a woman at high risk of death, and they must have known that time was of the essence.

And yet they did not act.

This is the inevitable outcome of abortion bans. Women die.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

Follow Jodi Jacobson on twitter: @jljacobson

  • Arakiba

    Women, you might as well go to Afghanistan to have a baby – Ireland and other nations under the thrall of fundamentalist religion think you’re nothing more than livestock.

  • JD Adam

    This is an all too familiar situation in pregnancies, and I am so grateful that this same type of situation occurred for me shortly after Wade vs Roe in the US. Today, in the 21st century in America, I would be left in many States, like this beautiful young mother in Ireland, to die with my dying child within me.

  • jovan1984

    I KNEW IT. ‘Pro-life’ lies, women die.

  • goatini

    I cannot escape the thought that the staff at this institution only saw, in Ms Halappanavar, an Indian woman pregnant with a female fetus. I suspect that it was decided by the staff that since she was Indian, she must have been faking her distress so as to obtain a gender-selective termination (being completely ignorant of the FACT that Indian professional couples today actively WANT female children), and therefore they made her wait LONGER than they would have made a non-Indian woman wait for lifesaving intervention. I truly think this was the case, and I hope that the investigation looks into this possible scenario.

    • HeilMary1

      That’s a scary possible motive for the deadly delay. I hope all the people guilty of her death go to jail.

    • LisaC

      I suspect that it was decided by the staff that since she was Indian, she must have been faking her distress so as to obtain a gender-selective termination

      A lot of anti-abortion whackjobs claim that because she is Indian, she must have tried to induce a termination of a female fetus at home, ultimately causing her own death. But I think that the sex-selective abortion alarmism is probably mostly circulated by people who think that it’s an inroad to outlawing abortion. Since it’s already illegal in Ireland, there probably isn’t a particular need to peddle the story that ethnicity, not culture, drives gender-selective abortion.

      • cjvg

        It does not matter what they claim, it is an idiotic excuse that can not be sustained without a complete willful suspension of logic and reasoning ability.
        If the medical staff in that hospital is not able to see the difference between a woman severely ill and dying, or one faking a miscarriage they are so incompetent that it considered criminal.
        Ant medical personal that incompetent needs to be immediately barred from seeing patients and have their medical license permanently revoked

        • LisaC

          it is an idiotic excuse that can not be sustained without a complete willful suspension of logic and reasoning ability.

          Well, obviously. They’re anti-abortion whackjobs.

          It’s a mistake to frame this as a issue of medical competence. Ms. Halappanavar was not dying when she entered the hospital, and they did what the law said they were supposed to do–not consider a termination until she was at death’s door. It’s the same thing that Catholic hospitals do in the States. Focusing on why the staff didn’t hit the narrow window when an abortion is permissible validates the antichoice claim that laws don’t need to be changed because women can already get an abortion if necessary. The real outrage is that the law forces doctors to gamble on hitting the window in the first place.

          • cjvg

            I agree, this should never be framed as a lack of medical competence or a racial/gender consideration on the part of the medical personal on her need for a therapeutic pregnancy termination.

            These issues are only raised to blunt and deflect the impact of what they truly did to her.

            THEY let her die in unbearable pain, so a fetus that was dying and never had even a remote chance to “get better” had a few more days to die

          • Von Dodds

            According to many pro life post I have seen they argue that fetus can feel pain and can themselves become distressed from it. If that is the case they not only let the mother suffer and die in great pain but the fetus as well.

          • Von Dodds

            Where are all of the pro lifers justifying the hospitals stand? Seems to me that when this happened they were all over Facebook
            saying that she just wanted to terminate her pregnancy ans that the hospital was right to not allow it.

          • colleen2

            Where are all of the pro lifers justifying the hospitals stand?

            They are insisting that pregnancy and childbirth are ‘natural’ not medical conditions and that women don’t need all that doctorin and expensive care to pop out a precious human life. All we need to a riverbank and some sand to help clean things up afterwards. Why women in third world countries give birth ALL THE TIME and live. That maternal mortality rate stuff is a liberal conspiracy theory.

            The ‘pro-life’ movement requires a great deal of ritual human sacrifice to sustain it’s momentum. They don’t care if the dead are doctors and nurses or women whose bodies cannot sustain a pregnancy. Such deaths afford the ‘pro-life’ movement what they think of as ‘moral authority’.

          • Amy Bean

            Actually, pro-lifers were stating that she likely did not die from a denied abortion, but from some other complication – such as untreated infection. Her medical treatment was horrendous. But, she did not die because she was denied an abortion. She died because a raging infection was not 1) DIAGNOSED and 2) TREATED. Sadly, this article is factually inaccurate as to the cause of her death…”The 31-year-old died from septicaemia four days after a miscarriage in an Irish
            hospital” from BBC news. Also, the inquest is continuing.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Why didn’t they induce labor? The fetus was non-viable and wasn’t going to make it–it was the source of the infection and if they had simply removed it, she might have at least had a chance. The way they did things no one had a chance.

          • Amy Bean

            Because they miss-diagnosed (or I should say, failed to diagnos) the problem.

          • Jennifer Starr

            At least you’re not telling me that preterm delivery of a non-viable fetus that was already in the process of dying would’ve been morally wrong. That’s what Stanek and a lot of the other ‘pro-lifers’ kept saying at the time. This was not a pregnancy that could have been saved. There was one life that could have been saved, and that was Savita’s. They failed to do even that.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Another option that ‘ pro-lifers’ recommended was removal of the uterus because of the ‘law of double effect’. Which would’ve basically punished this woman for the sin of not being able to carry a baby to term by making it impossible for her to ever carry another? I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds unimaginably cruel.

          • cjvg

            Her membranes already broke and that is why she entered the hospital.
            she knew she was miscarrying.
            Time of admission Sunday Evening, October 21.

            They did not fail to diagnose this, it is clearly noted in the report.
            Once the membranes are broken she is at extremely high risk of infection and they did take the cultures, blood pressure readings and CBC’s which are normal and recommended medical practice in these cases

            No, they diagnosed it correctly (if they could not diagnose broken membranes and the standard treatment to check for infection they have no business having a medical license),
            However they claimed they could still hear a faint hearth tone from the fetus and they would not abort until it was completely dead.

            They had consecutive cultures and CBC showing an active and increasing infection from the dying fetal tissue, the cultures showed an infection that spread to her from the dying fetus.
            She was now at high risk of sepsis caused by chorioamnionitis, an infection of the foetal membrane.

            Still the medical staff refused to act because of these so called faint fetal hearth tones.
            Although there are no recordings or any proof of this claim.
            Plenty of proof of her getting increasingly sick to the point of no return though.

            The pain from the raging infection (that was starting to shut down her organs by day two) was so severe that they could not sedate it with an effective amount of painkillers without giving her a fatal amount.

            Her husband and her both asked for an abortion repeatedly until she became lethargic and fairly unresponsive by the end of day two.
            Still an abortion was refused on the grounds of Ireland being a catholic country (direct quote from hospital medical staff) until the end of day three.(24th of October)
            By this time her blood pressure was dropping and full on sepsis had set in.

            According to all experts it was already to late for her at this point, effectively nothing could be done to save her.
            Any intervention from 9.30am onwards on October 24 “would not have made any difference”.(according to inquest report)

            She was brought to intensive care but by this time savita’s condition deteriorated so far that died from total organ failure cumulating into a massive hearth attack from septic shock, (all her organs had shut down and she could not be saved)

            Sepsis is an extremely risky complication to ignore, most end in death when not prevented from taking root.
            For every hour sepsis is present and uncontrolled there is a six per cent increase of mortality.

            The irony is that a miscarriage from the breaking of the membranes at 17 weeks has only three causes, none of them can be treated in a way were the fetus is saved,

            However with any reasonable medical care (not even excellent, just reasonable) the woman can always survive,

          • Rhubarb Fernsehen

            Because Irish law isn’t clear on when it’s legally permissable to induce labour. When there’s still a foetal heartbeat they are bound by law to not induce a miscarriage. Savita’s death woke a lot of people up to the realities of our extreme anti-abortion laws and got broad public support for a clarification of existing law and new legislation to be introduced that includes suicidal ideation as a reason for allowing abortion.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Thank you for clarifying and thank you so much for your answer–hope that new legislation is passed very soon.

          • colleen2

            But, she did not die because she was denied an abortion.

            Y’all should stop lying to yourselves.

          • HeilMary1

            It was imperative to remove the source of her infection: the dead rotting fetus!

          • cjvg

            She did die from being denied an abortion!
            How idiotic and dishonest can you get, to lie and deny her this truth even after she was murdered for it.
            They left a dying fetus inside her and the dying tissue is what caused her to become septic.

            If she was given a prompt abortion the infection could have been stopped in its beginning, and she would not have been irreversibly poisoned from the rotting tissue in her womb.

            Yes the infection was diagnosed, but it was not treated because it originated from the dying fetus and the only treatment would have been an abortion.
            This fact was clearly noted and confirmed by CBC;s and cultures as revealed by the investigative report on her death.

            You stick some dying tissue in your womb and lets all sit around and wonder why you got an infection!
            Do you have any capacity for logic or honesty at all?
            Even for those who have no medical back ground at all, this is irrefutable and pretty clear cut!

            This is also why it is so important to keep late term abortions legal and available.
            Sometimes a fetus also dies in the third trimester, these have to be removed as soon as possible before septicemia sets in and kills the woman.

          • Jacqueline S. Homan

            Amy, there is no other way to treat septicemia to save the pregnant woman’s life when there is a fetus dying and decomposing in-utero. So yes, she DID die from being denied the proper medical procedure (abortion).

          • cjvg

            Apperently that is still a very difficult concept to understand for many men and some women.
            Holding men responsible for their own birth control is constantly compared to telling a woman to keep her legs shut?!

            Who knew that is the same?!

    • cjvg

      Any doctor or nurse can SEE the clinical signs of a severe illness, and subsequently make sure that these signs are confirmed.
      She was not a little bit sick, she was in severe distress!
      I can only conclude that you have never seen anyone who is dying from sepsis, otherwise you would not make such a completely unsupportable speculation.

      These people who treated her were ALL hospital personnel, ALL medically trained people
      Any nurse or doctor who can not distinguish between a woman faking a miscarriage, and one dying from septic shock with one glance, should have their license revoked and barred from ever treating patients again.

  • Sevrin Caswell

    Just goes to prove that to religious people women are worthless, they exist only to breed.

    • Katie B

      That’s an awfully broad brush you’re painting with, buddy.

      • colleen

        Quite so. The religious right also value women as masturbatory aides and, of course, the world’s main source of cheap or free labor. When we object the Priests complain that women are too proud.

        • Amy Bean

          The religious right view women as human beings, filled with value by their Creator. Women hold value and should be respected. In contrast, the liberal media would have us believe that women should be proud of being pornagraphic objects to be oggled and fondled, and that we should cling tighlty to our “right” to destroy any life that may come from being used to fulfill human lust. Pathetic.

          • Jennifer Starr

            The religious right view women as incubators, meant to pop out child after child until their bodies wear out because ‘that’s what women are for’–that’s what our purpose is–no matter if we want it or not. And it doesn’t matter to them if the incubator is damaged or dies as long as the all-blessed fetus is intact.

          • Carla Clark

            As opposed to the right who view women as incubators from being used to fulfill human lust. Pathetic. The right does not view women as human beings, if they did, they wouldn’t find it so easy to deny women full human rights as persons. The religious right view women as livestock, whose value, whether wanted or unwanted, can be perverted for whatever means they wish. Sick.

          • colleen2

            The religious right view women as human beings, filled with value by their Creator.

            Right. Just like the hospital staff treated

            Savita Halappanavar like a human being filled with value by her creator as they followed Catholic doctrine and killed her because her body could not sustain a pregnancy.

            It’s really sad to meet a woman so brainwashed and beat down.

          • Amy Bean

            “Savita Halappanavar … killed her because her body could not sustain a pregnancy.”

            Actually, she died because of poor medical care, and not being correctly diagnosed with septicemia.

            How is the right to an abortion so important to women’s freedom? Are you suggesting that the biological state of men, the inability to get pregnant, would be a happier, more free, state for women to be in?

          • colleen2

            Actually, she died because of poor medical care, and not being correctly diagnosed with septicemia.

            She died because her body could not sustain her pregnancy and people like you decided that a rotting fetus was more valuable than her or her life. I am suggesting that the ‘pro-life’ movement exists to control, demean and degrade women and keep us in our place. Many thanks for confirming this with every single one of your posts.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Pregnancy and motherhood is not necessarily for every woman.There are many paths that a woman can take, and not all of them include motherhood. To suggest that every woman who does not want to be a mother is somehow trying to be a like a man is insulting.

          • Ella Warnock

            Yes, since I didn’t want children, the inability to get pregnant absolutely WOULD have been a happier state for me. It was never anything but a hassle to deal with. What’s so difficult to understand that MY idea of freedom may vastly differ from yours?

          • Jennifer Starr

            The religious right might respect a woman, providing that she knows her place and behaves like the good, sweet, submissive little girl she’s supposed to be. But dare to challenge a man or step outside of your place and see how quickly that veneer of respect evaporates. With religious conservatives the only thing that’s actually changed since the fifties and sixties is that they’ve learned to hide their views behind code words and nice-sounding phrases. But trust me when I tell you that absolutely nothing has changed.

          • Ella Warnock

            No, not all of them do, and I’m sure you’re very well aware of that. It would be more accurate to say that “good” women who follow all the rules are rather more “tolerated” than valued. Something rightwhingers are not taking into account is that those of us who oppose their “authority” know from the inside out what that kind of religious dogma dictates, and little to none of it is a friend to women OR children.

            What’s your message here, anyway? That if you’re not a “good, god-fearin’ woman” you’re automatically some kind of porn star? How insulting, and how very typical. I’m NOT a christian, and I’ve been happily, faithfully married for 26 years. And I’m hardly alone. No, your message here is that that all women aren’t following your rules and living the way you think they should. How very inconvenient for you that you have to share this planet with people who don’t live the way you want them to and aren’t interested in why you feel that way. How inconvenient for your that other people value their PRIVACY, and don’t appreciate your meddling in their personal business.

            Yeah, there’s something pathetic here, but it’s certainly not what you think it is.

          • cjvg

            Who says the woman is being used to “fulfill human lust”
            Women are perfectly capable od being lustfull themselves and using a man to fulfill that human lust.
            Just because you do not enjoy sex, that does not mean most women don’t.
            Most women are just as lust full as men and are by no means being used.

            I’m sorry that you feel that powerless and have deprived yourself of one of the more enjoyable aspects of being human.
            But that does not mean you have the right to pass laws forcing all women to validate your personal feelings on this subject.

            If most women truly felt that sex was as demeaning as you seem to think, humanity would have died out long before your relatively new religious cult reared its ugly head

          • ashley larrieux

            “The religious right view women as human beings, filled with value by their Creator.”

            oh, they do, do they? try asking sister margaret mcbride, the director of a catholic hospital who was immediately excommunicated by the catholic church after authorizing a lifesaving abortion on a young woman whose risk of death if she did not abort was “close to 100%”, according to her doctors.

            “(Sister Margaret McBride) consented in the murder of an unborn child,” says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.”

            i don’t know how much more clear “your only use in life is as a breeding vessel” has to get before you figure out that the church does not value you as a human being. you’d think the medical “ethics” director for the diocese of phoenix telling you straight up, in no uncertain terms, that if your fetus is dying then you also have to die and people are forbidden from saving you would clue you in.

            your assertion that savita’s death was the result of merely poorly provided medical care is nothing more than wishful thinking. the catholic hospital stood by and allowed her to die, because they were catholic and because according to catholic doctrine, that is what they must do. i have no doubt several of the staff must have wanted to save her, but the threat of excommunication and losing their jobs the way sister margaret mcbride did kept them silent.

          • canaduck

            “In contrast, the liberal media would have us believe that women should be proud of being pornagraphic objects to be oggled and fondled, and that we should cling tighlty to our “right” to destroy any life that may come from being used to fulfill human lust.”

            I think all of us would agree that the objectification and constant sexualization of women in the media is a horrible phenomenon, though for different reasons than yours. We aren’t motivated by religion or the belief that sex is evil, after all.

    • Samuel Samuel Camenetti

      Not only are they breeders, their Christian god never wants to see them. They are no more valuable than a single sheep.

  • Los Angeles Roofing

    It is a beautiful and nice girl of your quality

  • Chris Harlos

    I’m sure the Pope had an erection when he heard.

  • Nicholas Rogers

    I’ve got a papal encyclical right here where the Pope says that its perfectly fine to let the women die in the case of a non viable pregnancy, even though both she and the baby would die.

    Well, okay, maybe I don’t…but I mean, that’s what a Christian leader would say right? I mean, lets get things straight here…it makes perfect sense that the Christian argument against abortion in cases where the pregnancy is viable can thus be blamed for mistakes made when the pregnancy isn’t viable. That’s definitely not a skeleton man argument or a gross simplification.

    Because, remember kids, religious people hate vaginas and all they want women to be is egg cases for that alien parasite they try to personify with the term “Baby”.

    Pro-Life? Try Pro-L(turn of the century era treatment of women in line with mysogonist god that they believe in)ife

  • Nicholas Rogers

    But seriously, this is a matter of inept policies. Resulting from a viewpoint? Certainly…does that necessarily mean the viewpoint is wrong? Not really. I would go so far as to call this case “irrelevant”, and if I was a policy maker in Ireland, I would certainly view this as a tragic blunder that needed to corrected by revising the procedures to allow for a greater window of time to terminate a non viable pregnancy. If the law states that the pregnancy cannot be terminated until the heart stops beating, the language should be changed to “until the fetus is no longer viable”.

    Of course, the dividing line between, say, completely non viable, a 0.01% viability and a 20% viability is precisely the kind of subjective grey area that produces the bureaucratic f ups described in this case. But, nonetheless, this is much less a matter of viewpoint and more a matter of human error and ineptitude in a specific context.

    If mistakes made in the application of a view point necessarily invalidated that view point, we can summarily conclude that Democracy is fundamentally misguided because it’s going so wrong in Egypt right now.

    • Carla Clark

      Um, yes, it is the result of a viewpoint. Do you only read stuff that you agree with? If you didn’t, you would REALIZE that Ireland has a TOTAL ABORTION BAN. And that is due to the heavy-handed role that the Catholic Church plays in Ireland’s government. Either way, someone who believes that abortion should be illegal, would be a hypocrite, if they centered laws around when a fetus is no longer viable, rather than not living. Kthx.

  • wildthang

    I think they mean is in their religion life is secondary to ideological fantasies about an unprovable god and what it wants because only their leader can decipher it’s unknowable imaginary language. Who needs life since they make it hell on earth.