NEWSFLASH: Woman Dies After Being Denied Abortion by Irish Hospital

Feminists and pro-choice politicians are calling for an urgent revamp of Irish abortion law after the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who died in the Republic of Ireland after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy. Halappanavar went to University Hospital Galway on October 21 and was found to be miscarrying, but doctors refused to induce an abortion as long as a fetal heartbeat was present.

Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, claims his wife requested an abortion several times but was told, “This is a Catholic country.” She spent several days “in agony” before the fetal heartbeat stopped and doctors removed the dead fetus, and then died in the intensive care unit of the hospital from septicemia. Investigations into Halappanavar’s death will now be held by Ireland’s health executive and by the hospital itself.

Abortion law in the Republic of Ireland last came under international scrutiny when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the law violated the rights of a woman forced to travel to England to obtain an abortion. The court stated that the woman’s treatment violated her right to a private and family life–similar to the legal basis for Roe v. Wade. However, no changes have been implemented in Irish abortion law since the 2010 ruling, and it appears that legislators’ slowness to act has now claimed its first victim.

Even though the Irish Medical Council states that abortion may be performed if “there is real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother,” the reality is that decisions are left to the discretion of individual doctors. The ECHR found “a lack of effective procedure in the Irish Republic for [a woman] to determine her right to an abortion,” whereby women are not necessarily informed of their right to an abortion in life-threatening cases.

More worryingly, a conference of Irish medical professionals held just six weeks before Halappanavar’s death claimed that “direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.” Today’s news runs in direct contradiction to these doctors’ conclusion that “the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”

While provoking heated debate about the need for Ireland to overhaul its 151-year-old abortion law, Halappanavar’s needless death may also serve as a warning of things to come if Ohio’s fetal heartbeat bill passes. As opponents point out, despite an exception to save the mother’s life, the bill would mean doctors have to wait until a woman is gravely ill before being certain that they can perform an abortion without prosecution.

And as we can see from this case in Ireland, there can be no waiting. There can be no obstruction to a woman’s right to abort a non-viable fetus. Because when there is, women can die.

Photo from 2012 pro-choice rally in Dublin by Flickr user informatique under license from Creative Commons 2.0


  1. Boycott Ireland. Do not buy anything produced there; do not vacation there. Let them understand that actions have consequences.

  2. “This is a Catholic country.” Anybody else hear the subtext, “And you’re a Hindu. Or brown, or something.” So this sounds, to me, like racism as well as sexism.

  3. Just a note on that “conference of Irish medical professionals”. It was organised by leading figures in the Irish anti-choice movement and the only speakers invited were known abortion opponents. In no way does this conference represent the views of the Irish medical profession generally, the large majority of whom support limited abortion rights.

  4. Those in developed countries (and even some undeveloped ones) say that a girl baby is just as precious as a boy. Yet why is it that when those little girls grow into young women, they are no longer as precious? And in fact, their desires come second to that of a fetus (which may or may not survive to become a life?) It is a tragedy.

  5. What’s disgusting is that many pro-lifers are secretly happy a woman received the ultimate punishment for trying to abort a fetus, for which they have a fetish. When fetuses are valued more than women, we’re headed for the Dark Ages. Even then, I’ll bet unwanted pregnancies were terminated by whatever means possible.

  6. Roisin Davis says:
  7. I am Irish and a women’s rights advocate. I am ashamed that there still people in Ireland today who think the Catholic church which has abused many children in Ireland and caused much grief to many women in Ireland should still be respected. I do not respect any, and I mean any religion which discriminates against women because these religions are patriarchal institutions which deny women and homosexuals the right to self-determination and equal rights. Those who remain in such institutions should realise that it is possible to live a private “spirituality” without any institution. As an athiest, I uphold other values such as the CEDAW Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    My suggestion: instead of boycotting Ireland write to the Irish government and protest strongly against the lack of an abortion law in Ireland. Bombard the Irish government with protests and the European Union. Call on it to exclude Ireland from the EU if it does not allow abortion in Ireland.

  8. Clara Nistler Palmer says:

    Limited abortion rights are as criminal as any kind of abortion rights. There are no bad or badder when it comes to abortion rights of women! A “conference of IRISH MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS” you say? Medical murderers are more like it which includes racism. The pope needs to be kicked in the butt out the door plus all those so called holy men as well.

    How can any country or religion get away with murder. My heart is broken for her and family. It’s unbelievable!!!!

  9. Beverly Chaney says:

    Lobbyists should be demanding exceptions to abortion bans and so-called conscience clauses, allowing therapeutic abortion to protect both the health and fertility of the mother. Many legislators do not realize 1% of all pregnancies are ectopic, can never become viable, but often cause infertility if not aborted before the tube ruptures or infection spreads.

    Ectopic pregnancy affects far more women than life-threatening complications or pregnancy due to rape. Laws protecting zygotes and blastocysts could leave tens of thousands of American couples infertile each year. Spending $500 for prompt administration of an abortifacient could prevent their going deep into debt to pay for infertility treatments that often do not work. Personhood laws could be characterized as extremely anti-family.

  10. Evelyn McMullen says:

    Horrible to lose a life because of ignorance.

  11. Jenny Borowski says:

    I am a ProLifer BUT this is insanity… If there is any risk to the baby or mother DIEING then action should be taken especially if it was already deemed a miscarriage!!! That is rediculous and it’s things like this that give Prolife supporters a bad reputation!! If you miscarry aren’t there tests to determine this, it would be no different then if you think your pregnant you pee in a cup and voila pregnant or not. The law should be changed for sure.
    This is a whole other ball of wax but I things it’s stupid that rape and abortion corelation… If you are raped you take the morning after pill… Which should be available at any age!!! They talk about prevention prevention but what about if you do get an std, what if you do get raped/have unprotected sex… Also to if you have umprotected sex you may get pregnant married or not etc… It’s no excuse to have an abortion b.c YOU weren’t ready for a child etc etc… I don’t understand why those homes were pregnant women went and lived out there pregnancy and gave birh to “unwanted” babies, which were then adopted out to families who couldn’t have children…. We spend dare I say millions on child and family services for children who have been taken out of bad situations or aren’t wanted by their parents, they get scooped up and taken care of until they are 18 or for life.. Yet we have nothing for the prefectly healthy baby who was just an “inconvenience”… It should be a woman’s RESPONSIBILITY to carry that baby to term… I have many friends who have been adopted at birth and I can’t imagine one of them not being here b.c a woman couldn’t take responsibility or couldn’t “deal with it” or it was an inconvenience… Be mindful of your actions… IF you don’t want a baby take preventative action… Rape doesn’t justify an abortion PERIOD… I had a surprise pregnancy out of wedlock and I embraced it… She is the best thing that has ever happened to me… God has a plan for everyone and everything…

    One other argument and then I’m done… Prochoice doesn’t prevent dumpster babies or coat hanger abortion’s it just gives people even more liberty to be irresponsible.

  12. Medical personnel at that hospital should be prosecuted for manslaughter. Is there also a criminal investigation? Savita should not have died.

  13. It makes me so angry I have Irish heritage and it doesnt seem anything to have pride in anymore, not when women are being slaughtered for the rotting dead fetuses inside them.

  14. Hi.

    Being of Irish origin, I believe its about time Northern Ireland’s women received the same legal rights and choices as their UK ,european American sisters, and that includes access to legal and safe abortion.
    Why is it that hundreds of thousands of Irish women have fled their motherland and emigrated to where they can settle down in a country that offers them greater freedoms, greater choice and greater equal rights across the social spectrum.

    I recently read a powerful book called :
    “Irish Women Fleeing the Motherland (Ireland’s Past Oppression of Women)”

    ..Its a powerful investigation of how the Irish state is so controlled and corrupted by the Roman Catholic church and how both past and current generations of Irish women still are treated like second class citizens. If you want to learn more about the truth about why Irish women are deprived from equal rights and choices, check out this book


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