Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist residing in Galway, Ireland, arrived at her University Hospital on October 21. At 17 weeks pregnant, she felt pain and needed to find out the cause, so she entrusted her health to her doctors. They informed her that she was miscarrying, but because it is a “Catholic country,” they refused to take out the fetus while it still had a heartbeat. Though her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, stated that they were “neither Irish nor Catholic,” the hospital staff insisted that there was nothing they would do for Ms. Halappanavar.
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive … 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 fetal heartbeat we can’t do anything.’
“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.”
On October 28, after Halappanavar spent over 48 hours in agony, the foetal heartbeat stopped and the dead fetus was removed. She was taken to a high dependency unit and died from septicaemia and e. coli shortly thereafter. Since her cervix had remained fully open for such a long time, she was more prone to infection. Writer Michael Nugent explained it as “comparable to having an untreated open head wound.”
In Ireland, abortion is illegal under the constitution. However, if a woman’s life is in danger, she may be allowed to have one. Even so, this horrible event makes it obvious that actually obtaining one is a whole other story. When the law is foggy, speculation causes fear which leads to denying necessary healthcare: doctors may be afraid of repercussions to their careers or practices, health care providers won’t cover it, women fear that others will ostracize their choice (even if it saves their lives). Nobody who needs protection is protected.
I don’t actually understand how even those who claim that anti-abortion laws protect unborn fetuses could be opposed to abortion in this situation. Neither the child nor the woman was saved by the denial of an abortion–a result the hospital was aware of beforehand–so why was it necessary? Who did this protect?
As if we needed another reminder, this is why abortions need to be legal, safe and obtainable. What terrible thing would’ve resulted from allowing this woman to have an abortion, other than save her life? Until religious beliefs involving harsh regulations of reproductive rights can be knocked off the governmental table, women will continue dying in this exact same manner.
Photo: Irish Times.