Too soon to commit on abortion legislation, says Reilly
Minister for Health James Reilly is resisting pressure to commit to the introduction of legislation to clarify the legal situation governing terminations of pregnancy.
Dr Reilly said it would be improper of him to make such a commitment before he considered the report of his expert group on abortion.
He said he had given the report, which he received this week, a “quick glance” but had not had time to study it properly. After he had done this, he would bring it to Cabinet, he said yesterday.
Pressure on the Government to legislate on the circumstances in which terminations of pregnancy can be carried out has been growing in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar late last month.
Ms Halappanavar presented on October 21st with back pain at Galway University Hospital where she was found to be miscarrying at 17 weeks. She died of septicaemia on October 28th.
Her husband, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, had described how she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated, given that she was in pain and was miscarrying. He said the request was refused by medical staff who said they could not do anything because there was still a foetal heartbeat. He said they were told that this was the law and that “this is a Catholic country”.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who received the report of the expert group on abortion yesterday, called for “legal clarity” on the abortion issue.
Views within the Fine Gael parliamentary party on dealing with the abortion issue appeared to be shifting last night in the light of the circumstances surrounding the case.
Many TDs from a representative group of the party’s parliamentarians contacted yesterday expressed anti-abortion views but most said there was an urgent need for legal clarity on risk to the mother’s life. More than one said they were reconsidering their views, or they were evolving.
The HSE’s investigation into Ms Halappanavar’s death will be led by its director of quality and patient safety Philip Crowley, Dr Reilly said. An expert in obstetrics and gynaecology from Northern Ireland has been approached to be on the investigating team. Terms of reference are expected to be released today.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has sought assurances from Galway University Hospital and the HSE that proper standards of safe care were adhered to in the treatment of Ms Halappanavar.
The authority wrote to the hospital on Wednesday and the HSE yesterday asking for further information about Ms Halappanavar’s death. A reply was sought by the middle of next week.
Galway West Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh said that Galway University Hospital had carried out terminations in recent years in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment in the X case and Medical Council guidelines. He said it was not managed by any religious order and did not have a Catholic ethos.
The case continues to attract attention worldwide, some of it hostile. Ms Halappanavar’s parents, father Andanappa Yalagi and mother A Mahadevi, have voiced harsh criticism of the care their daughter received in Ireland.