Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said on Tuesday that, although he couldn’t be definite, he was confident the government would have abortion legislation enacted before the summer recess.
He was on his way into a Cabinet meeting where he expected Health Minister Dr. James Reilly to have a progress report on the legislation for ministers.
Meanwhile, Reilly flatly rejected widespread speculation that pregnant women who are suicidal will have to face a panel of six doctors should they want to access an abortion.
He was reacting to weekend reports that the planned Protection of Maternal Life bill would mean that pregnant women with suicidal tendencies who wished to have an abortion would have to face six medical professionals.
The bill is one of the proposed measures the government aims to introduce in the wake of the inquest into Savita Halappanavar’s death after miscarrying a baby when she was 17 weeks pregnant.
Reilly said there was an obligation on the government to bring clarity to the law so that “the women of this country know what is available in relation to the services that are there for them, and the medical people who have to provide these services are clear on what is legal and what is not.”
During the inquest into 31-year-old Savita’s death, there was evidence that medics believed they were limited by law into carrying out a termination only when the fetal heartbeat stopped.
Legally, an intervention could only take place if there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, but the guidelines did not stipulate how those conditions would be met in such situations.
Although doctors knew Savita was going to lose the baby they weren’t initially aware there was also a threat to the mother’s life. When they eventually discovered there was such a threat, and they considered carrying out a termination, the fetal heartbeat had already stopped and Savita gave birth naturally to the dead fetus. She died days later when she developed septicemia.
Savita’s husband, Praveen, is considering taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights. The inquest jury ruled unanimously that her death was by medical misadventure at University Hospital, Galway, last October.
He said almost immediately afterwards that his wife was “left there to die.”
The couple would have been celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary on the day the inquest ended. Instead, Praveen faced a barrage of questions from reporters relating his story of the couple’s fruitless effort to obtain a termination of her pregnancy when she was miscarrying.
He described Savita’s treatment in the hospital as “horrendous, barbaric and inhuman.”
“Medicine is all about preventing the natural history of the disease and improving the patient’s life and health, and look what they did. She was just left there to die. We were always kept in the dark,” he said.
“If Savita would have known her life was at risk she would have jumped off the bed, straight to a different hospital. But we were never told.”
He said he is still considering further action through the courts in Europe, as he believes his wife’s right to life was breached. He told The Irish Times, “I haven’t got my answers yet why Savita died. I will get to the bottom of the truth.”
Praveen said he wished he was more assertive with hospital staff. “I should have shouted and screamed and asked for a second opinion but we were in our own shock,” he said.
“We thought it would be over in a few hours and we would be home. We had started thinking of the next pregnancy.”
At the inquest, the jury adopted the nine recommendations suggested by coroner Dr. Ciaran MacLoughlin, including one that the Medical Council should revise its guidelines for doctors on the termination of pregnancies.
MacLoughlin was also quick to emphasize the verdict did not mean that deficiencies or systems failures in the hospital contributed to Savita’s death. The rules of the inquest process meant no blame could be attached to any person caring for her.
After the inquest, a hospital spokesman acknowledged there were lapses in the standards of care provided to Savita. The spokesman promised the deficiencies identified at the inquest would be rectified by the hospital and all recommendations would be taken on board. He said some recommendations had already been acted on.
The Medical Council, whose guidelines featured prominently at the inquest, said it would reconsider these rules after the government changed the legal position.