Savita Halappanavar was just 31 years old when she died in 2012, but her death helped give way to major reform in Irish abortion law.
Halappanavar, a dentist, and her husband Praveen, an engineer, both natives of India, were living and working in Co Galway at the time of her tragic death in October 2012.
Shortly after Savita's death, Praveen, who was 34 at the time, recounted to The Irish Times his wife's final days.
When Savita presented at Galway University Hospital in severe pain, a doctor examined her and told the couple that "the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately, the baby wouldn’t survive."
The doctor, according to Praveen, said it would be over in a few hours, but the fetal heartbeat continued for three more days.
“Savita was really in agony," Praveen said. "She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby.
“When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.
“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”
A few hours later, the fetal heartbeat ceased, and Savita was taken into an operating room where her womb contents were removed.
“When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick," Praveen said. "That’s the last time I spoke to her.”
At 11 pm that night, Praveen received a call from the hospital: “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable.
"She stayed stable on Friday but by 7 pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys, and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”
Savita Halappanavar died on October 28, 2012. Praveen took Savita’s body home to their native India on November 1, and she was cremated and laid to rest on November 3.
A post-mortem found the cause of Savita’s death to be “Fulminant septic shock from E. coli bacteremia; Ascending genital tract sepsis; Miscarriage at 17 weeks gestation associated with chorioamnionitis.”
Savita Halappanavar and Ireland's Eighth Amendment
Savita’s death was one of the catalyzing forces that led to the repeal of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, which "acknowledged the right to life of the unborn, and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guaranteed in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
In May 2018, as Ireland prepared to head to the polls for a referendum on abortion, Savita’s parents gave permission for their late daughter’s image to be used as part of the Together for Yes campaign, which sought to repeal Ireland’s Eighth Amendment.
In a video for Together for Yes, Savita’s father Andanappa Yalagi said: “I hope that the people in Ireland will remember the fate of our daughter Savita on the day of the referendum and vote ‘yes’ so that what happened to us won’t happen to other families.”
On May 25, 2018, the Republic of Ireland voted 66.4 percent to 33.6 percent in favor of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
In September 2018, the “Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018” was initiated in the Irish government, seeking to legalize abortion in the country for the first time for non-life-threatening reasons.
The legislation was ultimately passed in the Dáil Éireann on December 5, 2018, and on December 20, 2018, it was signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins.
According to the Department of Health, the new legislation which was written after the referendum “permits termination to be carried out in cases where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman, including in an emergency; where there is a condition present which is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth; and without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
"The expanded service for termination of pregnancy under the Act of 2018 was introduced on 1 January 2019.”