“What is the use in being angry? I’ve lost her. I am talking about this because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else. It’s very hard. It has been a terrible few weeks, very hard to understand how this can happen in the 21st century, very hard to explain to her family.
“If it had happened in the UK or India, the whole thing would have been over in a few hours. We just pray now, wherever she is, she is happy.”
Praveen Halappanavar, claiming that his pregnant wife who died in an Irish hospital would still be alive if doctors hadn’t ‘refused’ her an abortion. She was miscarrying at 17 weeks gestation, there was no way to save the dying foetus, but it still had a heartbeat, so the Catholic doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy, allowing septicaemia to develop and eventually kill her. Savita’s life and future as a mother of other children that she keenly desired was counted as less important than a doomed, but still beating, foetal heart.
Left-wing TDs Clare Daly and Joan Collins described the woman’s death as an outrage.
They criticised the Government for failing to adopt their X Case Bill earlier this year, which would have introduced new laws to allow an abortion in specific life-threatening circumstances.
Ms Daly said: “A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life.
“This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus – the woman was having a miscarriage – was given priority over the woman’s life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicaemia and died.”
Investigations into Mrs Halappanavar’s death have been launched by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group and the state’s health officials.
Ms Daly and Ms Collins said their proposals would have ensured there was no equivocation over whether an abortion should have been performed.
Thousands of Irish protestors gathered around the Dail parliament to demand changes to the law. This is what the pro-lifers who claim that there is no such thing as a medically necessary abortion are willing to keep on seeing – women who want to be mothers dying when their pregnancies go wrong.
Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, religion, social justice
This is horrifying and so upsetting. How can those people live with themselves? Anyway, nothing useful to add to this and what I have been reading all over about this. My heart goes out to Savita Halappanavar’s family.
I assume the ‘University’ bit means it is also a teaching hospital. I hope they have all learnt their lesson now. I hope that this poor woman’s death makes for significant changes. What a horrible immoral thing to do in the name of a religion.
When I had a baby in Ireland I was told by various friends that if anything were to go wrong there were some hospitals that were known to prioritise the life of the patient and others that were known for not doing so, so it was best to be clear about where you would go in an emergency. I was also pretty cranky about the difficulty of getting a 12-week scan. There was an obvious undercurrent of not wanting women to be too well informed, in case they were tempted to make a decision that someone didn’t like.
The instant and vast wave of local protest, though, feels very meaningful. Perhaps this is the “enough is enough” point.
I read about this this morning. It is so horrifying, so incredible that this happened in 2012. How is it that still in supposedly ‘free’ democratic countries people can not make decisions according to their own conscience? How is it possible that someone else’s religious beliefs can still override a citizen’s own values? What is the difference between Ireland and a Muslim theocracy of the kind we are constantly told we have to be so very afraid of?
This post by Jennifer Kesler about the effects of denying abortion to women who survive the experience is worth reading: Women denied abortions: five year study looks at the after-effects
I’d be interested to see long term follow up of the women who chose this too, to see how their outcomes (and those of the children) compare and contrast to the turnaways who kept their babies, and in terms of outcomes for the women, compare physical/emotional/mental health outcomes of the women who gave up their babies for adoption to those who got the abortion they sought.
No question what happened to this lady is very tragic and my heart goes out to her family. But, as this the writer of this post says, our outrage maybe be premature. It’s worth a read:
Jennifer, that article is the first time I’ve seen any accusations of racist discrimination in the treatment of Savita, so I wasn’t outraged about that anyway. I remain outraged that a woman presenting at 17 weeks gestation with ruptured membranes and a fully dilated cervix (making miscarriage of the foetus inevitable) did not immediately have her uterus evacuated so that her cervix could close before infection could set in.
Those who decided that they had to wait until there was no foetal heartbeat, of a foetus they knew full well could never ever survive to viability, before they evacuated Savita’s uterus? Those medical practitioners consigned her to days of avoidable pain and an infection that could have been prevented and which eventually took her life. If they did it because the law demanded it, then the law is barbaric. If they acted on their own consciences when the law would have allowed them to abort the dying foetus, then those doctors are barbaric.
I’m certainly interesting in finding out more details of exactly where the fault for the barbarity lies, so that my outrage can be more precisely targeted at those who deserve it most, but I’m not dialling down the outrage while I wait.
I’ve seen racism floated as a possibility, with varying degrees of certainty of tone, in a few places. Frankly, it’s annoyed me, because I can assure everyone that hospitals in Ireland are absolutely every bit as willing to to let Irish women die, and to suggest they aren’t supposes a level of safety for Irish women that they do not enjoy.
This in no way lessens my sense of outrage, and to call any level of outrage over what happened to Savita “overblown” is monstrous.
If they did it because the law demanded it, then the law is barbaric. If they acted on their own consciences when the law would have allowed them to abort the dying foetus, then those doctors are barbaric.
What I’ve heard from Irish citizens (caveat: none of them being lawyers as far as I know) on other forums is that there essentially isn’t a clear law about this. The European Parliament has ruled that an abortion must be available in cases like this, but successive governments haven’t ratified it into law – and in the meantime, the Irish constitution recognises the right of a foetus to be considered a human life, and doctors who perform abortions face losing their licenses.
There is a right under Irish law for women to go to the UK for abortions, but no mechanism to help them do so if they can’t manage it by themselves, so for Savita Halappanavar, that’s essentially a null right.
So the lawmakers are an entirely right target for anger.
On the other hand, they seem to have left her in agonising pain, and despite being an obvious risk for infection, they didn’t give her antibiotics until she was already at the point of collapse. So I’m not really inclined to let the doctors off the hook either.
Plenty of barbarism to go round.
Arguments about abortion aside, not giving her antibiotics would be grounds for negligence by itself would it?
I’m sure that a medical argument could be made that there was no point administering antibiotics until clinical signs of an infection were present, Chris. A suit for negligence on those grounds would be a toss-up, I suspect.
I certainly reject the notion asserted in the article, linked in #7, that the circumstances that befell Savita were ‘entirely unforeseeable’. Pregnant women miscarry all the time and a great many pregnancies end this way.
I don’t know about that, tigtog. My understanding is that routine prophylactic antibiotics have been the standard of care in PPROM for a good long while now. More UK guidelines here (I can’t find Irish ones.)
Arcadia: Yep, sepsis risk (maternal and fetal) in PPROM is very, very well known and is drilled into us repeatedly as medical students.
I’m sure you’re right, L. That doesn’t mean that they won’t try the argument I outlined as if it were a proper medical argument, nor that an Irish judge wouldn’t accept that as within the bounds of “on the balance of probabilities”.
I think one of the reasons that race has been raised as an issue is that when she and her husband asked for an abortion, they were repeatedly told ‘This is a Catholic country’. As if she, as a resident in Ireland, did not know this. And many commentators question whether a white Irishwoman would have been given this response.
I also think that racism can be more subtle than ‘did she die because she was Indian’, but rather that she could still have been treated in a racist manner whilst receiving the same (lack of) medical treatment and medical outcome as a white Irishwoman in the same situation.
I think those commentators are unfamiliar with Irish Catholic rhetoric. “This is a Catholic country” is expounded from pulpits every week to white Irish Catholic congregations by hectoring priests. The satirical Irish TV show Father Ted had its priestly characters use the phrase regularly in conversation with other priests. I have no doubts whatsoever that a white Irishwoman would have had those very same words thrown at her.
ETA: it’s definitely a phrase used to shame/blame somebody for not being sufficiently on board with church dogma, but it’s a truly catholic phrase in the lower-case sense – it gets used against everybody whether they belong to the church or not.
Continued: on doing a search of Father Ted quotes I can’t actually find that phrase, although it may have been so commonplace that it didn’t make the selection for memorable moments. However, my impression from the time I lived in the UK was that the phrase “This is a Catholic country” was regularly used by politicians, opinion columnists and priests when arguing against various legal modernisations requested by (mostly) white Catholic Irish citizens, to the point where the phrase was commonly used to mark an Irish traditionalist character on comedy shows.
Why is refused in quotes in that sentence? It reads like scare quotes to me.
And that whole “dial down the outrage” – nope. Not happening.
Today I was working in the National Library of Ireland (which is attached to the Irish parliament) as several hundred women stood outside and protested Savita’s death and demanded greater access to abortion. One of their banners read ‘I have a heartbeat too!’.
On the ‘this is a catholic country’ thing, I don’t necessarily disagree, but it is a phrase used when speaking to ‘others’, ie non-catholics – not to ‘the nation’. When politicians say ‘this is a catholic nation’, they mean ‘and if you’re not, you’re not part of it’. It’s also not something I’ve ever heard used in a non-politicised context (or in social commentaries on that context, such as comedy).