Abortion

04.19.13

In Ireland, Justice for a Victim

A court has ruled that Savita Halappanavar's death was the result of medical incompetence.

When Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist living in Ireland, suffered a miscarriage in University Hospital Galway, her doctors and nurses refused to perform an abortion to save her life, explaining, “This is a Catholic country.” After several painful days, the death of the fetus, and the onset of septicemia, she died on October 28 of organ failure. From Cork to Calcutta, the world reeled.

Today, a Dublin jury ruled unanimously that Halappanavar died of “medical misadventure,” meaning that the hospital staff had failed to perform the necessary tests and keep adequate notes (some files had even been altered weeks after her death). The Galway coroner did not rule as to whether an abortion would have saved her life, but he did recommend that the Irish Medical Council produce guidelines directing when an abortion would be an appropriate medical action. Since 1992, abortions have been deemed legal in cases where it would be necessary to save a mother’s life, but no legislation has been passed to enforce that ruling. Doctors are thus reticent to perform a procedure that the constitution bans.

Halappanavar’s widower, Praveen, shook hands with each of the jurors and said he would continue to try to bring the individual staffers responsible to justice. Today would have been his fifth wedding anniversary.