Savita Halappanavar died last month in Ireland after she was denied an abortion while miscarrying her pregnancy. She was 17 weeks pregnant when she arrived at University Hospital Galway complaining of severe back pain. Hospital staff determined she was miscarrying, however, doctors refused to remove the pregnancy until three days later. After the pregnancy was removed, Savita was transferred to intensive care where she died three days later of what was determined to be septicemia (similar to blood poisoning).
Praveen Halappanavar, Savita’s husband, told the Irish Times that she had asked for an abortion multiple times while she was miscarrying, but was told that the hospital could not do anything until the fetal heartbeat stopped. Savita experienced vomiting, shivers, shakes, and even physically collapsed in the three days before the fetal heartbeat stopped. When Savita asked if the hospital could induce labor to end the pregnancy, a hospital employee told the family that Ireland is a Catholic country and “as long as there’s a foetal [sic] heartbeat we can’t do anything.”
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights determined that Ireland had to have a system in place to grant women an abortion in accordance with their rights established by the government. In Ireland, abortion is legal “when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.” However, many hospitals have been hesitant to terminate pregnancies in these situations because the statute is vague regarding specific guidelines for when the procedure is permissible. Fiona de Londres, a law professor at Durham University England told Bloomberg “[Savita’s death] clearly underlines the need for a change in the abortion laws. It is a ludicrous situation. There is a clear need for legal guidelines to be introduced so that doctors know precisely when they are legally entitled to provide an abortion when requested.”
University Hospital Galway has launched an internal investigation into Savita’s death, and the Health Service Executive, Ireland’s executive health board, is also launching an investigation. Pro-choice activists across Ireland and the U.K. are planning protests to challenge the restrictive abortion laws in Ireland.
Praveen Halappanavar accompanied his wife’s remains to India for her funeral and cremation on November 3rd, 2012. News of her death made international news when her community canceled the city’s Hindu Diwali festival, which Savita had helped organize.