Proposed law not sufficient, say Savita Halappanavar’s parents

‘They must change the law to save women’s health, not just her life’

The parents of Savita Halappanavar have said the Government’s proposed abortion legislation does not go far enough to save women’s lives.

In an interview with The Irish Times in India, Andanappa Yalagi and his wife Akamahadevi expressed shock that Irish law did not permit abortion to protect women's health in cases of rapidly escalating conditions such as sepsis.

“They must change the law to save women’s health, not just her life. Women’s health is as important as a man’s. If the law does not do that, Savita has been sacrificed for nothing. How many Savitas do they want?” Mr Yalagi said.

“They must look after Irish women. We would like a law that saves women,” he said.


Ms Halappanavar died at Galway University Hospital last October, having been admitted miscarrying at 17 weeks of pregnancy. A Health Service Executive report on her death found there had been an apparent overemphasis on the need not to intervene until the foetal heartbeat stopped and not enough emphasis on the need to focus on managing the risk of infection.

Senator will not back Bill
Separately, another Fine Gael Senator has become the latest member of the parliamentary party to confirm he will not support the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill as it stands. Tom Sheahan from Kerry revealed he was prepared to go further than other opponents in Fine Gael.

“I’d quit the party before I’d vote against the party because I’ve serious issues with the legislation,” he said. Mr Sheahan said he was concerned about the inclusion of a suicide clause and the lack of a time limit stating how late into a pregnancy a termination can be performed.

“I’m not in any camp. This is a personal view. I’ve asked several Fine Gael people if we were in Opposition how would you vote, and they said we’d vote against it.”

Government sources have denied that high-profile criticism of the legislation will affect the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas. Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton and former director of public prosecutions Éamonn Barnes have revived the argument that legal representation should be granted to the unborn.

A leading Irish expert on constitutional law has said the idea the Attorney General or her representative would “turn up in a hospital” for a routine hearing for a woman wishing to have a termination was “ludicrous”. Prof Fiona de Londras, professor of law and co-director of the Durham Human Rights Centre at Durham University, said the Bill already created a formula for balancing the rights to life of the unborn and the pregnant woman required under the Constitution and there was “no need” for a separate legal advocate for the unborn.

'Majority' support
Minister of State in the Department of Finance Brian Hayes said Mr Barnes's suggestion, outlined in an article in The Irish Times on Saturday, was not practical. He predicted the "great majority" of the Fine Gael parliamentary party would back the Bill and defectors would be small in number. Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White said it would be inappropriate to introduce a legal procedure with separate representation for the unborn.

Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh, who along with Deputy Peter Mathews and Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames have confirmed they will not support the Bill, conceded “with regret” that the proposed legislation would pass.

“The only thing we can hope for is to make some amendments that might make it more palatable,” he said.While no discernible groundswell of support for the rebels was evident last night, party sources said Ms Creighton’s comments on the Bill would be watched closely. She will be abroad attending events related to the Irish presidency of the EUthis week, but is expected to speak on the Bill in the Dáil early next week. Senator Paul Bradford, Ms Creighton’s husband, is expected to oppose the Bill.

A proposal by Labour rebel Colm Keaveney to attempt to force a referendum on the planned legislation under Article 27 of the Constitution was strongly criticised by party Senator Ivana Bacik. The proposal would require the approval of 55 TDs and a majority of the Seanad, which a senior Fine Gael source dismissed as “highly unlikely”.

Ms Bacik accused Mr Keaveney of grandstanding. “The fact of the matter is that our courts have already adjudicated on this and the people have already spoken on this, not once but twice...In suggesting that the Oireachtas, once again abdicates its responsibility by kicking this legislation to touch Colm Keaveney wants to take the cowardly way out.”

Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White, who is also a senior counsel, said it would be inappropriate to introduce a legal procedure with separate representation for the unborn.

“What is being proposed here [BY EB]is a procedure for a forensic cross-examination of a woman’s “bona fides” in order to establish whether she is making a “spurious or dishonest claim”.

Article 40.3.3 neither requires nor contemplates such a procedure.

The constitution requires the State “with due regard to the equal right to life of the respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate” the right to life of the unborn.

The State’s obligation is to be carried through “in its laws”. Therefore, the legislation before the Oireachtas sets out a rigorous certification procedure by doctors, who are expressly required to have regard to the need to preserve unborn life as far as practicable. It would be wholly inappropriate, and entirely unnecessary constitutionally, to introduce a legal procedure with separate representation for the unborn, and there is no proposal to do so.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist