Tánaiste seeks 'clarity' on abortion after Savita death

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said this morning there is a need to bring “legal clarity’’ to the abortion issue following the death …

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said this morning there is a need to bring “legal clarity’’ to the abortion issue following the death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital.

Ms Halappanavar (31) presented to University Hospital Galway on October 21st with back pain, where she was found to be miscarrying at 17 weeks. She died of septicaemia on October 28th.

“We need to ensure that in this country we do not have a doubt which arises in a hospital in a set of circumstances which puts a mother’s life at risk,” Mr Gilmore told the Dáil.

He said there was also a need for clarity for medical professionals who had to make judgement calls in those matters in the real-life situation of a hospital.


Earlier, Minister for Health James Reilly said he wants the findings of an inquiry into the death of Ms Halappanavar to stand up to “the scrutiny of the world”. The HSE review of the case is expected to take up to three months to complete and, while keen to hear answers, Dr Reilly warned against rushing the inquiry,

“You’re stuck between trying to get to the answers as quickly as you possibly can but not doing so in such a rushed fashion that you don’t get the true answers,” he told reporters in Dublin this morning. “I want the findings of this to stand up to the scrutiny of the world.”

Ireland’s ambassador to India is attempting to ease concerns in the country over the death of a woman who was refused an abortion as she miscarried.

Feilim McLaughlin is briefing government and opposition figures in New Delhi as two investigations got under way into Savita Halappanavar’s death on October 28th in Galway University Hospital.

Officials in diplomatic circles in Dublin said meetings were planned with politicians of all creeds in an effort to indicate the exact position on abortion in Ireland “in light of strong headlines”.

The India Times reported the death of Mrs Halappanavar as: “Ireland Murders Pregnant Indian Dentist.”

A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, said in a Twitter post that the Indian embassy in Dublin was “following the matter”.

Ms Halappanavar’s mother today called for a change in Ireland’s abortion laws.

“In an attempt to save a four-month-old foetus they killed my …. daughter. How is that fair you tell me?” Mrs A Mahadevi, Mrs Halappanavar’s mother, told Indian TV.

"How many more cases will there be? The rules should be changed as per the requirement of Hindus. We are Hindus, not Christians.”

Ms Halappanavar's death must be the subject of an independent public inquiry, a Galway-based surgeon who is a close friend of the woman and her husband Praveen said last night.

Dr CVR Prasad, a former orthopaedic surgeon at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway, last night called for a public inquiry into her death. He said the inquiry should be taken out of the hands of the Health Service Executive or University Hospital Galway.

The Government has not ruled out an independent inquiry into the death of Ms Halappanavar.

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”.

He said she spent more than three days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was removed, but Ms Halappanavar’s condition deteriorated and she died.

The HSE said last night an independent external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology would be appointed to strengthen the incident management team it has asked to investigate the circumstances of Ms Halappanavar’s death.

The terms of reference for this review and the members of the team were currently being finalised, a spokeswoman said. The team would liaise with Mr Halappanavar as next of kin.

“The process of incident review seeks to ascertain the facts relating to the incident, draw conclusions and make recommendations in relation to any steps that may need to be taken to prevent a similar incident occurring again.” She extended the HSE’s deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Ms Halappanavar. Both the hospital and the HSE said they would not be commenting on the circumstances of the case.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not rule out an independent inquiry when it was suggested by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. He said it was appropriate for Dr Reilly to first receive the reports of the hospital and the HSE.

The case, which attracted worldwide media attention yesterday, has increased pressure on the Government to legislate for the implications of the X case 20 years ago.

Dr Prasad, who visited Ms Halappanavar in hospital before she died, said: “Any inquiry should be public. That is the way it should be, it should not be conducted by the HSE or the hospital. It should be independent.I hope that might save the life of another women. This should never happen to another woman. Religion and medicine should never mix.”

Mr Halappanavar yesterday repeated his belief that his wife would not have died if she had been given the termination that the couple repeatedly asked for in the hospital. Asked whether he thought things could have turned out differently if a termination had been carried out, he said: “Yes of course.”

Speaking to The Irish Times from Belgaum in southwestern India, his wife’s home region, he said Ireland’s reputation for being a “good place to have a baby” was among the factors in their decision to start a family here. “All our friends had great stories to tell about the babies they had in Ireland. So we decided we’d go there. We had heard Ireland was a good place to have a baby. Most of our friends there had babies there and they’re all fine and so we decided: have a baby in Ireland.”

A postmortem has been carried out on Ms Halappanavar and the coroner has been notified. The couple came to Ireland in 2008. She had a dental post in Westport, Co Mayo.

Several hundred people gathered at Leinster House last night to demonstrate in favour of abortion legislation, while candle-lit vigils were held in Cork, Limerick and London. Further protests are planned in Dublin, Limerick, Belfast and Galway in coming days.

Two years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had failed to provide for abortion in circumstances where the mother’s life is at risk. The decision means Ireland has to legislate but Dr Reilly is facing resistance from within Fine Gael to any liberalisation of the laws on abortion.

Last night, the anti-abortion Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the UK said that while Ms Halappanavar’s death was tragic, it should not justify legal abortion.

"What we do know is that miscarriage and infection can be managed by proper medical treatment. Abortion is not medicine – it does not treat or cure any pathology," general secretary Paul Tully said. “It is not ethical to induce delivery of an unborn child if there is no prospect of the child surviving outside the womb.”