Dr Savita Halappanavar

—Bureau report

India summoned Ireland’s envoy to New Delhi in November to formally raise New Delhi’s concerns over the death of Dr Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in a hospital there. The cause of death: blood poisoning after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy.

“I think saving the life of the mother is of prime importance, if you can’t save the life of the child,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid went on record as saying.

The Irish health authority (HSE) has launched an inquiry which the Health Minister said must “stand up to the scrutiny of the world.” Not only that: reacting to the outrage in India and in Ireland, and among thousands of FB and twitter users, the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland, Eamon Gilmore, has said openly that it is time that “Ireland clarifies its positin on abortion norms” before the world.

Dr Halappanavar, 31, died on October 28 due to septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She was admitted to hospital in severe pain on October 21 and asked for a termination after doctors told her the baby would not survive, according to her husband Praveen.


The foetus was surgically removed when its heartbeat stopped days later, but her family believes the delay contributed to the blood poisoning that killed her.

The Indian couple were resident and working in Ireland, he as an engineer and she as a dentist.

Ireland has committed to a thorough investigation into the death. Ireland’s Government pledged to clarify its abortion laws—thousands took to the streets to protest throughout November after news broke of 31-year-old Dr Halappanavar’s death, and subsequently went viral on the internet. Activists in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, which has some of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion, say the refusal by doctors to terminate the pregnancy earlier may have contributed to her death.

“I was deeply disturbed yesterday by what Dr Halappanavar’s husband said. I don’t think as a country we should allow a situation where women’s rights are put at risk in this way,” Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore admitted before Irish Parliament.“There is no question of equivocation. We need to bring legal clarity to this issue and that is what we are going to do.”

Dr Halappanavar’s death has provided the wake-up call.


It's time for us to “stop talking and legislate”, said an opinion piece by an Irish senator who described the agonising death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland as a wake-up call.
Senator Ivana Bacik, in the strongly worded opinion piece in Irish Times, wrote that the news of Savita's death in appalling circumstances is a wake-up call for legislators.
Dr Halappanavar arrived October 21 with back pain at Galway University Hospital where she was found to be miscarrying at 17 weeks. Doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy and she died of septicaemia on October 28, sparking outrage in India and Ireland.
“No more inaction. For 20 years now the lives of Irish women have been put at risk by the failure of successive governments to legislate...,” Bacik said.


November 2012

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