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Praveen Halappanavar pictured with his wife Savita at their home in Galway Photo by: Asia Press

Abortion debate continues to rage in Ireland after Savita Halappanavar’s death

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Praveen Halappanavar pictured with his wife Savita at their home in Galway Photo by: Asia Press

The family of Savita Halappanavar, who died in a Galway hospital last month after being refused a pregnancy termination for a baby she was miscarrying, has given the government until Thursday of this week to agree to an independent public inquiry or face a European court battle.

Their demand came as the Irish Cabinet on Tuesday considered the report of an expert review group on abortion.

Savita’s family’s move is effectively a rejection of an inquiry by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and a separate one by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

Savita’s husband Praveen said he had no faith in the HSE probe into the deaths at the Galway University College Hospital. He also rejected the HIQA probe which was launched last Friday.

He has said if there is not an independent public inquiry he will take a European Court of Human Rights case.

Read More: American case echoes Savita story as Bishop strips hospital of Catholic affiliation

Savita’s father, Andanappa Yalagi, also made a direct appeal from India to the Irish government to hold an independent inquiry.

Savita, 31, from India, who worked as a dentist in Westport, Co. Mayo, died of septicemia on October 28, four days after asking for medical termination when she complained of bitter pain and was told she was miscarrying her fetus of 17 weeks.

Her husband Praveen, 34, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, said the termination was refused because the fetal heartbeat was still present and the couple were told, “This is a Catholic country.”

When the fetal heartbeat stopped the dead fetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit of University College Hospital, Galway, and then the intensive care unit, where she died.  The Irish Catholic newspaper said this week that Catholic theology and the law did not stand in the way of doctors treating Savita.

But the Irish government is under growing pressure to legislate for abortion in limited circumstances after an expert review group came down in favor of clarifying the situation by way of new law and supporting regulations.

The review group was established in January and its report was presented to the government last week.
 The contents of the report by the review group, discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday and published later that day, were already leaked to media last weekend.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Ireland failed to properly implement the constitutional right to life of the mother set out by the Supreme Court in Dublin 20 years ago in the X case. The court decided that the life of the mother must be at risk, but it left the power with doctors, excluding the woman’s views. 

Choice Ireland, which seeks to ensure a woman’s freedom to pursue all reproductive choices, said the government’s response to date left them fearful of further delays.  Spokeswoman Stephanie Lord said. “The normal progression of legislation is very, very slow. The government should take the option of going with emergency legislation. 

“It’s needed -- there is a legal vacuum. They have the capacity to move legislation in a week if they had the political will.”

Choice Ireland and another group, Action on X Alliance, both expressed disappointment with the report’s narrow interpretation of the circumstances where abortion should be permitted.

A spokesperson for Action on X Alliance said the review group report did not go far enough, but it was a very important beginning, although it didn’t take account of situations where the mother’s health was at risk or of cases of rape or incest.

The Bishop of Kerry, Dr. Bill Murphy, accused pro-choice campaigners of exploiting Savita’s death to promote the introduction of abortion.  He said the campaigners, and sections of the media, were attempting to “hijack the tragedy” to promote abortion -- which was different from a termination for life-saving medical reasons. 

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, who said Fine Gael politicians will vote on what the party decides, explained what he feels should be done.

“We are dealing with a very different generation of politicians. Our country has moved to a different space. There are clearly very strongly-held views,” he said.

“The vast majority of people understand what needs to be done here, but they do not want to move to a position where you have abortion on demand in the country.”

Read More: American case echoes Savita story as Bishop strips hospital of Catholic affiliation

He called for a “sensitive, understanding, broad and comprehensive” debate on the report when it reached the Dail (Parliament).

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