Public outcry and further debate has erupted over abortion in Ireland since the death of 17-week pregnant Savita Halappanavar in Galway. The 31-year-old first time mother died of septic shock having suffered a miscarriage. The doctors stated they could not abort her pregnancy due to the current Irish laws.
Health Minister James Reilly told Newstalk he has no evidence that a Catholic ethos prevented Savita’s life being saved by a medical termination of her pregnancy.
Savita, an Indian native who worked as a dentist, asked that her pregnancy be terminated several times but the doctors at the Galway hospital had to refuse because the fetus had a heartbeat. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar (34) said the doctors had told them “this is a Catholic country.”
When the fetus’ heart stopped, two days later, Savita was rushed to surgery. She later died of septicemia while in the intensive care unit.
Savita’s tragic story is being reported around the world. From the Herald Sun, in Australia, to the Times of India, The Guardian and New York magazine, they report that Savita died having been denied an abortion.
Vigils and protests have been held around Ireland. In Dublin, in front of the Dail (Ireland’s parliament) an estimated 2,000-plus came to show their respects for Savita and called for the Irish government to introduce new legislation on abortion.
In Cork, 400 people gathered for a candlelit vigil, many carrying placards calling for this new legislation on the foot of the “X case”. Other signs spoke of the shame that the country feels over what happened to Savita. Other protests took place in Eyre Square, in Galway and another in front of the Irish Embassy in London.
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Many of the protestors and those calling for the government to address a new legislation on abortion are using the slogan “We Are All Savita Halappanavar”, posting it on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
A quote from the Reproductive Health Reality Check website is also being repeated. The editor in chief wrote, “Someone's daughter, wife, friend, perhaps sister is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable fetus was more important than her life. Because she was left to suffer for days on end in service of an ideological stance and religion she did not share. Because a wanted pregnancy went horribly wrong, and, because as must now be clear, there are people who don't care about the lives of women.”
On Wednesday Reilly also called on the Irish government to introduce legislation to give effect to the “X case”.
The “X case” refers to the 1992 Supreme Court ruling that abortions should be legally carried out in Ireland if the mother’s life is in danger. However, over the past 20 years the government has failed to pass legislation on the matter despite ongoing debate. It is estimated that 42,000 Irish women travel abroad for an abortion every year.
Child psychologist Mary Phelan was at the Cork vigil, organized by Cork Feminista. She told the Irish Times she had travelled to the event to express her anger at the lack of legislation.
She said, “I couldn’t find the words to describe how I felt I was so outraged when I heard what happened to this poor woman - it just shouldn’t have happened - they can say we must learn lessons from it but this was an entirely predictable mess and they left it happen.
"It’s not good enough to just say that it can’t happen again - we must make sure that it doesn’t happen again - I feel mortified in front of the world that we have stood by and allowed this happen in our country today - I think we should all be hanging our heads in shame."
The pro-life group, Youth Defense, released a statement stating that being denied an abortion did not kill Savita. They said, “According to the information that is available, it seems that a delay in administering antibiotics may have been the cause of the septicemia which tragically led to her death.
“Experts commenting on the case have made it clear that in such cases the main concentration of the medical team treating any woman in these situations would be on maintaining her health…In fact, without abortion, Ireland is one of the safest places in the world for a mother to have a baby, according to the United Nations.”
The Minister for Health called on the people of Ireland to wait for the outcome of the investigations into Savita’s death. They are being carried out by the Galway hospital and the Hospital and Health Service Executive (HSE).
Here's the PA's report from the Dublin vigil last night: