I couldn’t be in Ireland tonight to protest, so here I am in London, with my Placard and my candle.
This is an article from today’s Irish Times
Public inquiry demanded into death of woman refused abortion
The death of Savita Halappanavar must be the subject of an independent public inquiry, according to a Galway-based surgeon who is a close friend of the 31-year-old woman and her husband Praveen.
Dr CVR Prasad, an orthopaedic surgeon at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway, said such an inquiry must be taken out of the hands of the Health Service Executive or University Hospital Galway.
The Government is not ruling out an independent inquiry into the tragic death of Ms Halappanavar, who 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”.
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.
Next of kin
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.
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said it would be an extremely serious matter if there had been any hesitation in relation to Ms Halappanavar because of moral or religious beliefs. However, he said he had no evidence of the application of a Catholic bias in relation to treatment and he warned against prejudging the circumstances surrounding the death.
Dr Reilly said it was a terrible tragedy for the family involved. For the staff involved, it was an emotionally traumatic time and they were entitled to due process.
Speaking in the Dáil, he said he had asked his officials to consider the report of the expert group on abortion, which had been submitted to his department on Tuesday.
Independent Senator Ronan Mullen described the case as deeply tragic but said it should not be “used as a wedge by abortion campaigners”
He added: “Its regrettable that some people are seeking to use this tragedy as an argument for legislating for the Supreme Court decision in the X case”.
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.
An independent external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology is to be appointed to the team investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar death, the HSE said tonight.
In a statement, the HSE extended its deepest sympathies to Ms Halappanavar’s family and friends.
It said the National Incident Management Team (NIMT) would oversee a review into the circumstances of Ms Halappanavar’s death
“To further strengthen this review the HSE is in the process of appointing an independent, external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to the incident management team.”
“The terms of reference for the review and the members of the review team are currently being finalised. 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,” the statement added.
The NIMT will liaise with Mr Halappanavar as next of kin.
Meanwhile, pro-choice campaigners have called on the Government to legislate for abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, following the death of Savita Halappanavar after she miscarried at University College Galway last month.
Ms Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claims she was denied a termination despite asking for one several times following her miscarriage diagnosis because the foetal heartbeat was still present.
She spent two days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped and surgery was carried out to remove the dead foetus. She died of septicaemia on the 28th.
United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly said the Government’s refusal to legislate for abortion had “contributed to the circumstances” which led to Ms Halappanavar’s death.
“A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life,” Ms Daly said.
“This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus – the woman was having a miscarriage – was given priority over the woman’s life.”
Ms Daly said the ULA intended to resubmit a private member’s Bill to legislate for abortion on the basis of the X Case, which the Government voted against in April.
Director of the National Women’s Council Orla O’Connor said Ms Halappanavar’s death was “horrific and needless”, and called on the government to take immediate action to legislate.
“It is simply unacceptable that 20 years after the X Case ruling women and doctors are still waiting for the much needed legal clarity,” she said.
“Savita Halappanavar’s death tragically highlights the urgent need for legislation giving effect to the constitutional right to abortion where the life of the mother is at risk.”
Anti-abortion campaigners have criticised pro-choice groups for “exploiting” the death of Savita Halappanavar to further their own agenda.
Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said the loss of Ms Halappanavar’s life was not caused by Ireland’s ban on abortion, and it was “very sad to see abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case”.
“We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected, and abortion is not part of best medical practice. It is medieval medicine,” she said.
A statement issued by Youth Defence said Ms Halappanavar’s death was a “tragic loss”, but it was important to remember that Irish doctors are always obliged to intervene to save the life of a mother, even if that risks the life of her baby.
“The Medical Council are very clear in this regard that their guidelines state that doctors will be struck off if they don’t intervene to save the life of a mother,” the statement said.
Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said the death of Ms Halappanavar “should not be used as a wedge by abortion campaigners”.
“In fairness to the medical staff involved, we should await the outcome of the investigations that have been established,” he said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that an independent inquiry into Ms Halappanavar’s death had not been ruled out, but the Government would await the results of two internal investigations, by the hospital and the HSE, before taking further action.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the two internal inquiries “will not suffice” because confidence in maternity hospitals and services was paramount.
Speaking in Cork this morning, Dr Reilly said a Government-appointed expert group on abortion headed by Mr Justice Seán Ryan had submitted its report to the Government yesterday.
The expert group was set up last year to examine the decision of the 2010 European Court of Human Rights in the ABC case, which concluded that abortion would be legal where there was a risk to the life of the woman.
“The report has been a bit delayed but it landed in my department last night,” Dr Reilly said.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to review it and I need to do that carefully before the next moves are made.”
He added that the issue of abortion would be addressed by the Government in order to “give clarity to the medical profession as to when it can intervene and do so within the law”.
Labour Women Chair Sinead Ahern welcomed the news that the report was concluded.
“The Labour Party position on abortion is to legislate for the X Case,” she said.
“The recent European Court of Human Rights ruling obliges Ireland to update its legislation. It is now very clear that this legislation is urgent and necessary.”