Government officials in Ireland announced today that they are seeking to revise their abortion laws in the aftermath of a woman’s tragic death. Savita Halappanavar, age 31, died of blood poisoning on October 27th at University Hospital Galway, Ireland after being denied an abortion.
According to The Guardian, Halappanavar arrived at the hospital on October 21st, complaining of terrible pain in her back. After examining the woman, she and her husband were told that she was suffering a miscarriage and would be fine within a few hours. The hospital stated that they could not perform the abortion because Ireland was a predominantly Catholic country and the fetus’ heart was still beating. The fetus was finally removed from her body two days later, but by then it was too late.
Savita’s death led to public outcry against the abortion laws in Ireland. The Irish Supreme Court had previously ruled that abortion was to be permitted if the life of the mother was at risk. Unfortunately those circumstances were never clearly defined. Lacking a clear definition of being “at risk,” hospitals and doctors have been left to make those decisions at their own discretion.
Rachel Donnelly, spokesperson for Pro-Choice Galaway released this statement on the group’s “Facebook” page:
“This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner. Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences. As the European court ruled, as long as the 1861 Act remains in place, alongside a complete political unwillingness to touch the issue, pregnant women will continue to be unsafe in this country.”
Ireland’s Department of Health posted an announcement on their website today concerning revision of the abortion ban:
“I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the Government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfill our duty of care towards them. For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.”
Ireland is one of only two EU countries that strictly ban abortion. It is too bad that it took a tragic death to make the point that the laws need to be revised.