Dublin's top lawmakers are facing intense criticism after Ireland's strict abortion laws led to an Indian woman's death in a Galway hospital. Sativa Halappanavar was just 31 years old when complications led to her death and the death of her 17 week old fetus.
Doctors determined that Halappanavar was miscarrying her pregnancy three days before her death. However, an ultrasound revealed that the fetus she was carrying still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar's cervix was fully dilated, increasing her infection risk drastically every hour that the pregnancy was not terminated. Doctors perceived this condition as being a potential threat to her life, but because her death was not certain, they could not abort the fetus.
Halappanavar contracted blood poisoning due to the miscarriage process not being completed by her body. As her condition worsened, she and her husband begged for the abortion procedure to be completed in order to save her life, especially as it had already been determined that the fetus would not be viable.
Irish laws are rigidly anti-abortion, and while there is always an exception if the fetal heartbeat cannot be detected, once there is a heartbeat it can be difficult to obtain abortions even if the woman's life is in danger. A 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision indicated that abortions in order to save a woman's life are not always banned, but the court and lawmakers have refused to identify exactly what should constitute that kind of danger according to the law.
In the absence of a clear legal standard for when abortion is legal, most doctors and hospitals simply refuse to abort any pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. For some women, it is still relatively easy to obtain an abortion, because England is just a quick boat or plane trip away. Over 4,000 women every year make the trip to England to terminate their pregnancies.
However, in situations like Halappanavar's, transporting the patient to a hospital where abortion is allowed is not an option. This is because transporting a patient from one hospital to another can only occur when the patient is considered to be in a stable condition, and Halappanavar's condition was not stabilized at the time when she needed abortion care.
The outcry in Ireland and Northern Ireland over Halappanavar's death has been extreme. Thousands of protesters held signs in Belfast asking for clearer laws, and even the professional group for Ireland's obstetricians and gynecologists has officially asked for clarification on the issue.
Meanwhile, Halappanavar's husband took her body to India. Her family is grieving their loss, which they feel was caused by the lack of clarity in Ireland's laws, as well as the extreme Catholic anti-abortion position. Halappanavar's family, which is Hindu rather than Catholic, has expressed anger and frustration with the Irish government and hospitals over their unwillingness to provide abortion care to save their daughter's life.
Source: Associated Press