Abortion law pressure likely after expert’s evidence at inquest

Dr Peter Boylan says Halappanavar likely to be alive if termination was provided


The Government is likely to come under increased pressure to legislate on abortion after the Savita Halappanavar inquest heard expert evidence that she would probably be alive if she had received a termination.

Dr Peter Boylan, clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital, said if Ms Halappanavar had been given a termination on the Monday or Tuesday, one or two days after she was admitted last October 21st, she would “on the balance of probabilities”, still be alive.

Ms Halappanavar had sought a termination at this time after her membranes ruptured and her pregnancy was no longer viable, but this was refused by doctors at Galway University Hospital. She died in its care a week after admission.

Terminating her pregnancy was not a practical proposition for the doctors treating her at this time because of the legal situation in Ireland, Dr Boylan told the inquest yesterday.

“In this jurisdiction termination of pregnancy is only legal when there is a real and substantial risk to the life as opposed to the health of the mother. There are no guidelines as to how that risk may be quantified.”

He said obstetricians were working in a legal vacuum and were “on very sticky ground” unless a woman looked like she was going to die.

Dr Boylan said there were deficiencies in the care provided to Ms Halappanavar but said individually they were unlikely to result in her death. Their cumulative effect was to delay treatment by several hours.

He said it would be helpful if the midwife who treated Ms Halappanavar on Wednesday October 24th provided a statement. However, coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin said the midwife had been certified as being unable to attend.

Consultant histopathologist Dr Michael Tan Chien Sheng said there was “nothing wrong” with the foetus carried by Ms Halappanavar and no indication it would not have progressed to full-term had she not contracted an infection.

The inquest continues today.