Tenth anniversary of Savita Halappanavar’s death to be marked by march calling for major abortion reforms

Event will take place in Dublin on October 29th following organisation by multiple groups including National Women’s Council of Ireland

A march to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar will call for major reforms of abortion legislation.

Organised by the socialist feminist group Rosa and supported by several organisations including the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), the march will take place in Dublin on October 29th.

Ms Halappanavar’s death in Galway University Hospital on October 28th, 2012 is credited with having galvanised a massive grass-roots movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which stated the unborn had an equal right to life to that of the mother. Inserted into the Constitution in 1983 it was repealed by a margin of two to one in May 2018.

Ms Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, was 17-weeks pregnant when she presented at Galway University Hospital on October 21st, 2012 with severe back pain. She was told she was miscarrying and was admitted for observation.


She asked for the pregnancy to be terminated several times over the next two days but was refused as the foetal heartbeat was present. She spontaneously delivered a female foetus on October 24th and was transferred to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, having developed sepsis. She died at 1.09am on Sunday, October 28th of septic shock.

Her death led to a number of inquiries which found she died as a result of a mismanaged miscarriage and that the legal context prevented a termination which could have saved her life.

The repeal of the Eighth Amendment paved the way for the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. It permits abortion on request up to 12 weeks’, and later where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, and in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Difficulties seeking abortions

Research commissioned by the Health Service Executive and published in July found a number of difficulties for women seeking abortions, including the mandatory three-day wait period between asking for an abortion and accessing the necessary medication; the 12-week cut-off point for abortion on request, and the stipulation that two doctors must certify that a foetus with a fatal anomaly will die within 28 days, for the mother to qualify for a termination.

The legislation is being reviewed by barrister Marie O’Shea. Her report is due before the end of the year.

Ailbhe Smith, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday to announce Saturday week’s march, said Ms Halappanavar’s death had led to an “extraordinary and very emotional outpouring” and was a huge loss for her family and for her community.

“We are continuing to fight today to try to ensure our legislation is not restrictive and not punitive as it is at present, that we do have services on a national, countrywide basis to ensure all those who need an abortion can actually access one.”

Orla O’Connor, director of the NWCI, said “the ongoing criminalisation of abortion” — which could see doctors charged if they provided abortion outside the restrictions — was “a significant barrier in terms of access ... The legislation could have gone much further post the referendum. It didn’t and this review is the opportunity now”.

Asked whether they were confident the public would support further liberalisation of the law, Ms O’Connor cited NWCI research published in February showing 80 per cent of respondents said no woman should have to travel to access abortion care and 71 per cent abortion should be treated as healthcare.

Dr Peter Boylan, expert witness at the inquest into Ms Halappanavar’s death and former master of the national maternity hospital, said that although the Eighth Amendment had been repealed, “Catholic healthcare is a strong and growing force in Ireland”.

He said the decision by Government to grant ownership of the NMH, when it moves to a site beside St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin 4, “to a Vatican-approved private hospital group, St Vincent’s Holdings” was “an insult to Savita’s memory”.

Salome Mbugua, chief executive of the African women’s network Akidwa, said migrant women faced the greatest barriers accessing abortion, with many experiencing language-barriers, rural isolation, difficulties finding GPs and even difficulties obtaining PPS numbers which are needed to access abortion.

Maeve Richardson, vice-president of the USI said “rural isolation, access to health professionals who will do the procedure, misinformation and social stigma” were issues students with crisis pregnancies faced.

“Young people and students don’t have finances or means to travel, even just within Ireland, and are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to abortion services”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times