After Pregnant Woman’s Death, Protesters Rally Against Irish Abortion Law

The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who died at a hospital after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy, is attracting worldwide attention, concern--and anger

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Peter Morrison / AP

Hanna Graham joins a protest candle lit vigil for Savita Halappanavar outside Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland, Nov. 15, 2012.

During the agony Savita Halappanavar endured before her death, she made her husband promise not to reveal to her family that she was ill. The mass-market English-language paper, the Times of India reported that her parents, Andanappa and Akkamahadevi Yalagi, received the shattering news a few days after she diedHalappanavar’s father described his daughter as a “bold and intelligent woman with big dreams.”

(MORE: Ireland Abortion Scandal: Death of a Pregnant Woman Prompts Soul-Searching)

It took another two weeks after Halappanavar died for her story to reach the wider public. The cause of death on Oct. 28 was blood poisoning and an infection known as E.coli ESBL following a miscarriage in a hospital in the Irish city of Galway. But since the publication on Nov. 14 of an interview with her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, her case is attracting worldwide attention, concern–and anger. He told the Irish Times that his wife, who was 17 weeks pregnant and complaining of back pain, had arrived at University Hospital Galway where she was warned she was miscarrying her child. It would be another three days before the fetus’ heart stopped beating and doctors agreed to a procedure to remove it from the womb, he said, adding that during these three days, he and his wife asked on numerous occasions if doctors could terminate the pregnancy. He said that the hospital refused, saying that their hands were tied due to the ambiguous nature of abortion legislation in Ireland. Following the extraction procedure, his wife deteriorated quickly and died a week after arriving at the hospital.

While the hashtag Savita continues to trend across Twitter, protestors in Dublin are preparing for a candle-lit vigil to be held in the city centre on Nov. 17. Organizers predict that they will be joined by thousands holding vigils across Ireland, the U.K. and Belgium. A protest is planned  in New York on Monday. Demonstrators took to the streets of New Delhi and Bangalore on Nov. 16.

(MORE: Ireland’s Abortion Debate Heats Up)

Two inquiries into the death are being carried out by the hospital and by the HSE, the Irish Health Service Executive. Meanwhile, an expert report on recommendations for Irish abortion legislation has been presented to the Irish parliament. A spokesman for the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, told TIME that “the Government has established a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding [Savita’s] death. The findings of that investigation will be made known to Government as soon as it is completed.”

Rapid responses have not been a feature of Ireland’s long abortion debate. For 20 years Irish governments have delayed legislation that would have clarified abortion law. Savita Halappanavar’s case may prove a turning point.

That is a hope that remains for her family. Her mother told the Times of India she believes her daughter will only attain “moksha” [the end of death and rebirth cycle in Hinduism] after the Irish authorities clarify existing legislation on abortion. “Everybody should force the Ireland government to amend its laws,” she said. Savita’s widower told journalists that although he has decided not to pursue legal action, he intends to lobby the Irish government to permit abortions if a mother’s life is at risk.

MORE: The Irish Answer
MORE: Irish Austerity: Can the Government Last the Course?

Nowhere1111 1 Like

This is why I have problems w/ organized religion, in this case the Catholic church. It seems all of them INSIST they're beliefs are the ONLY correct beliefs! No one is FOR abortions. They are merely AGAINST the alternative!

akpat 2 Like

Strangly this problem was the same one Mrs Santorum had but over here she was aborted. Interestingly her husband is against all forms of abortion even if the moher dies. I guess what was good for his wife is not good for anyone else.

Hopefully the religious Taliban here will not overturn Roe vs Wade.

Piacevole 1 Like

I didn't have the impression that her husband was the one opposed to the abortion: apparently it was the hospital authorities who refused, on the grounds of the Irish abortion statutes.

glasgow1975 1 Like

@Piacevole the husband he means is Rick Santorum the Republican nutjob who lost out to Mitt Romney as the GOP candidate, he is opposed to all forms of abortion, but his wife in a similar situation to the dead woman in this article had her termination. Hypocrite springs to mind. . .


@Piacevole  I was only clarifying the issue as to which husband was being referenced. Obviously Rick Santorum's wife's gynaecological problems have nothing to do with Irish Law, perhaps the original commenter (akpat) was mistaken.


I have no brief for Rick Santorum, who was rejected in his bid for Senate re-election in Pennsylvania, where I live.  However, I don't know anything about his wife having an abortion.  There was one baby which did not live, a miscarriage, as I recall, and a baby born with trisomy-13, which causes mental retardation and other problems.  That child is still alive.  There are other children, in addition.

Prior to their marriage, Mrs. Santorum had a long-term live-in arrangement with a Pittsburgh gynocologist who performed abortions.  There may be some confusion on that issue, but so far as ever came out here, I don't remember her being reported as having had an abortion.  Because of Santorum's stance on the issue of abortion, it probably would have made the local news, because the other situation was the subject of coverage.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not defending Mr.Santorum, merely questioning the issue on grounds of fact.

ibtlius 1 Like

So typical of feminists....exploit another sad event for furthering their own cause. The investigation is still ongoing and it could have very well been medical negligence instead of it anything to do with the foetus which still had a heart beat. It would be foolish to assume that those who are protesting actually 'care' for the deceased 'Indian' woman except for the ones protesting in her home country, India. Even in this article and others written by female journalists never once mention that Savitha was herself a doctor.

Piacevole 4 Like

The "cause" in question is the protection of the mother's life and rights to make her own decisions, free of outside interference.  There was no reason for this woman to die as she did, and bringing it to people's attention is a worthy effort to prevent future such events.

kimberly.elliott 7 Like

@ibtlius I work for a different outlet and mentioned in my piece that she was a doctor. Which means that she was likely cognizant of what was happening and well aware she could die. It's even worse that way.

Moreover, it would be a disservice to her to ignore the fact she died in pain, begging for treatment, knowing what she faced and mentioning such is not exploitation. It's speaking for her when she no longer can.