Ireland’s Historic Abortion Shift and the Tragedy That Shadowed It

The death of Savita Halappanavar intensified Ireland’s abortion debate. Her husband shares her story with TIME

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PETER MUHLY / AFP / Getty Images

Demonstrators hold placards and candles in memory of Savita Halappanavar during a march in Dublin on Nov. 17, 2012, supporting legislative change on abortion

Opening the doors to what would be the first legal abortions in Ireland, the Irish government announced Tuesday it will introduce laws and regulations that will clarify existing laws about under what circumstances doctors in the predominantly Catholic country can perform abortions for women whose lives are at risk.

“I know that most people have personal views on this matter,” said Ireland’s Minister of Health, James Reilly, in a statement. “However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care, while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.”

(MORE: After Pregnant Woman’s Death, Protesters Rally Against Irish Abortion Law)

The announcement follows the recent delivery to the Irish Parliament of a report by a panel of experts that recommended the government legislate the issue in order to clarify what the current laws actually do and do not permit. The fiercely contested debate in Ireland over abortion has intensified since the death on Oct. 28 of a 31-year-old Indian woman who was allegedly refused an abortion in a hospital after she had been told she would miscarry.

The case of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who had lived in Ireland for four years, caused outrage among supporters of the right of women to obtain abortions in Ireland, one of the only European countries to have what is effectively a total ban on the procedure. In an interview with TIME before Tuesday’s announcement, Savita’s husband Praveen said he didn’t want to sue or punish anyone — he simply wanted to ensure that no other woman in Ireland would go through the trauma his wife and her family have endured. Two investigations into Savita’s death are ongoing. Her husband has remained in Ireland and continues to press his case for a public inquiry into his wife’s death, which he believes would be a more thorough vehicle for finding out the details.

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

A LOVE MATCH

Ever since she first arrived in Galway, Ireland, Savita Halappanavar had thrown herself into organizing baby showers for each of her new friends as they, one by one, became pregnant. Now it was her turn. “She had huge expectations,” says Savita’s husband Praveen. “She had told her friends how she wanted her baby shower to be, to bring gifts that were pink in color. She was very confident it would be a girl. She’d even thought about the name, Prasa — a combination of Praveen and Savita.”

The couple had met in India in 2008 through a mutual friend in what Praveen describes both as a love match and an arranged marriage. “We used to talk over the phone, and I made frequent trips back home to visit Savita. We knew we couldn’t stay apart,” says Praveen, who had moved to Ireland for work two years earlier. When Savita joined him in Ireland after their wedding she dedicated herself to passing the exams that would allow her to practice dentistry in Ireland. She missed her family terribly, particularly her father. “She was the youngest in the family and the dearest,” says Praveen. “She took care of her father when he was sick in hospital and they became very close.”

The young couple fell in love with Ireland. They were determined to travel all around the country. “We were very adventurous,” says Praveen. “We went exploring almost every weekend, from the Cliffs of Moher to the Aran Islands. We visited every tourist attraction.”

Savita loved dancing and quickly introduced her passion to the local community, teaching Bollywood dancing, even to her hesitant husband. “I was so shy and had never been on stage before, but Savita gave me confidence,” he says. “At that time, I was ready to do anything for her. We were deeply in love and were on top of the world.”

(MORE: Ireland’s Abortion Debate Heats Up)

When Praveen told his parents back home in the state of Karnataka, India, that he and Savita were expecting their first child, his family was overjoyed. On Oct. 20, the couple shared the news with their friends at a small gathering in their Galway home, attended by Savita’s parents, who were visiting for a few months. The baby was due in March 2013.

That night, Savita had trouble sleeping. The following morning she complained of severe back pain, and so Praveen took her to the hospital. He says that after an examination, the midwife assured them they had nothing to worry about; the baby was safe and they should go home. A few hours later, they were back in the emergency room. Praveen saw that his wife was still distressed: “She was in a very bad condition,” he recalls. “I can still remember it now, it’s still not gone.”

While he consoled his wife, she turned to him and began to apologize. “She even said sorry to me, I don’t know why she said it.” The doctor explained that Savita had cervical dilation and that fluid had begun to leak from her womb, says Praveen. The young couple asked if there was any way the womb could be closed up but the medical staff explained there was nothing to be done, Praveen says. Savita was going to miscarry her child.

Once the couple realized the fetus would not survive, they asked for a termination to end Savita’s suffering, Praveen says. “Immediately, she said that she couldn’t take it and that she needed a termination,” recalls Praveen. “She wanted to go home.” They knew that abortion was illegal under most circumstances in Ireland but felt that their situation was different — they had planned the pregnancy and did not want their child to die.

According to Praveen, the medical staff said the miscarriage would take a couple of hours and that they should expect to be home by the end of the day. Three days later, after hours of excruciating pain, vomiting and nausea, Savita miscarried, Praveen says. A nurse told Savita that the fetus was female, Praveen says.

(MORE: The Irish Answer: A Profile of Enda Kenny)

LEGAL FOG

Two inquiries into the death of Savita Halappanavar — one by Ireland’s national health service, the Health Service Executive, and the other by the patients’-rights watchdog Health Information and Quality Authority — were set up in late November to help clarify how the medical staff looking after Savita reached their decisions. The hospital has declined to comment on the case until both inquiries have concluded. Neither the Health Service Executive nor the Health Information and Quality Authority inquiry has said when they will complete their investigations.

The doctors treating Savita were operating in a legal fog that has existed in the Republic of Ireland since the 1992 case of a 14-year-old who became pregnant by rape. Savita’s husband Praveen says that his wife’s consultant, who had been with her since the start of her pregnancy, explained that under Irish law, doctors could not touch the fetus until its heart stopped beating. (The consultant, like all hospital staff, has made no comment on the case.) Praveen says there were two junior doctors present, as well as a family friend, when the consultant allegedly reminded the couple that “unfortunately, it is a Catholic country, and when the fetus is still alive, you’re not able to terminate it.”

“Then she said sorry and walked away,” he says.

By the time the fetus died, Savita’s health was seriously deteriorating. “Immediately, things started getting worse,” says Praveen. His wife had contracted septicemia and E.coli ESBL, a strain of bacteria that resists penicillin. “Her body had started swelling and her tummy was big. When I held her hand, she was rock solid.”

Three nights later, says Praveen, a nurse led him to the ICU, asking: “Are you brave enough to be beside Savita during her last few minutes?” He remembers pleading to the doctors to save his wife. “If not for me, I thought she would fight it and come back at least for her father,” he says. Savita died early on the morning of Oct. 28.

(MORE: After Pregnant Woman’s Death, Protesters Rally Against Irish Abortion Law)

Praveen took his wife’s body to Belgaum in India for burial, in a funeral ceremony that attracted nearly a thousand friends and family. Savita’s family pressed him for answers. “There are six to seven doctors in the family — her uncle, her brother, they’re all doctors — and they couldn’t believe it. They said it was a matter of a half-an-hour job. They couldn’t believe it had happened in the 21st century in a country like Ireland.” Praveen had no answers so he turned to the Irish media; the story caused an uproar in Ireland that continues to this day.

Praveen believes that had his wife been in India, where the pregnancy could have been terminated, she would be alive today, planning her next pregnancy.

Praveen remains far from home in a country whose laws he believes contributed to the death of the woman he loved. But he does not feel alone. “I didn’t know where I would get that strength from,” he says, referring to his campaign for a public inquiry and his speaking in public about his wife’s death, “but it’s happening because I’m getting a sense from Savita.”

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

59 comments
Justsnapd8
Justsnapd8

@patricklee6669 Ireland's #prolife laws didn't kill #Savita. The jury is still out on what did. @Puffy_Ghost @stick_man_says @blcinsd

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Shame on Ireland for remaining a religious Hell Hole

jjrtoken
jjrtoken

Decisions that effect mortality have the highest probability of affecting genetic drift. This influence (abortion) that effects mortality directly could arguably said to come primarily from UNPLANNED and unthoughtful pregnancies. I would say it comes from people acting like animals aloof to the social contract and lacking a clear vision of life and its meaning. No plans cus no beliefs. Its like all these benefits of society just poof out of nowhere. They are not seen to start with the foundational relationships being healthy and meaningful.

I said nothing about medical necessity which is by far the lesser cause of abortions. mutations are not the cause of evolution bookworm12. Selection is. The question is, "what drives selection most in the genome" and "are other selective pressures similar and supportive systemically or do they drive drift in a different direction evolutionarily?" All very difficult to "prove", but very easy to understand intuitively. I would even say we are hardwired to recognize the dynamics in the evolutionary process as a matter of survival. Women know this I believe.

DaljeetSingh
DaljeetSingh

Govt of India should also learn from Irish Constitution on Right of Equality ( Article 14 Constitution of India )

Legal Defect in Constitution of India are effecting Global Economy and Terror in the World due to legal defect in Constitution of India 

1 As per Article 266 No constitutional Public Accounts Commission in India and all states govt of India 

2 No Specific law for Elected Representative in Election Commission of India on Garbing public funds in India Public Funds .Its main cause of the Terrorism in the World  and Global Economy is effecting due to India because There should be a specific law in Election Commission if any Elected Representative will grab public funds he/her can not contest any Election till he get clean chit from the Justice system of India 

above are the main cause for Terrorism in  the World  and Global Economy .Any country in the World can count how many terror attack have happen in  US UK and others Country before Demolition Babri Masjid  in India and How many terror attack happen in US UK in India and others country after Demolition of Babri Masjid in India  No United Nation and USA and Ireland govt should also write to Govt of India for above amendment in the Constitution of India 


BridgetCullen
BridgetCullen

i had more faith in Ireland than to expect this. 

AmtulMussawer
AmtulMussawer

It's quite strange and incomprehensible. In a 3rd world country with lower literacy rates, like India or Pakistan or Bangladesh under such circumstances lives can be saved by terminating the pregnancy. All you need is common sense. Life of an adult woman is definitely more important than not touching the fetus which as about to die any way.

idkwheredorais
idkwheredorais

@TIME @timeworld died because of a fetus that was already going to die... #senseless

idkwheredorais
idkwheredorais

@TIME @timeworld Again proof that there needs to be a separation of church and state. A living, breathing contributing member of society

darkirishdancer
darkirishdancer

@TIME @TIMEWorld Its about time something is done about that. Clarifying the law is one thing, allowing women to die is another.

jjrtoken
jjrtoken

Ireland is one of the few places not trying to get rid em... Guess they want less Irish. Easy abortions enables and even encourages loose morals, not to mention being morally evil itself. They encourage viciousness in the genome. I for one love the Irish sentiment and sensibility. Ireland: stay Irish!

AngelaTimmer_
AngelaTimmer_

From this article:

...Halappanavar believes had his wife been in India where the pregnancy could have been terminated, she would be still alive today, planning her next child. Halappanavar remains far from home in a country whose laws he believes contributed to the death of the woman he loved.

This is what his solicitor said a few weeks ago:

...Last night his solicitor Gerard O'Donnell told the Irish Independent: "Mr Halappanavar has never claimed in any interview that a termination could have saved his wife's life."

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/savita-story-possibly-muddled-reporter-3315595.html

WentRogue
WentRogue

@KellyBaden I'm confused as to why journos making it seem like abortion will be legal in Ireland, though.

DarwinAkbar
DarwinAkbar

Surely, Ireland cannot have more far-right religious theocrats as a percentage of total population than the US. 

Come on, Ireland - join the rest of the civilized countries of Europe. Abortion is a mother's choice and absolutely nobody's business.

fire_starAngel89
fire_starAngel89

I am without a doubt pro-life, but even I have to admit that if the baby was already dying inside of the mother then it makes no sense why the doctors couldn't just end both the mother and the baby's suffering more quickly by just terminating the pregnancy, since it was dying already, and it could of saved the poor mother's life.

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN elle est morte d'une scepticémie. Sait-on si elle aurait pu être détectée avant ? pourquoi se focaliser sur une seule solution ?

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN on n'est pas sûr qu'un avortement aurait sauvé la mère.

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN L'Irlande a le taux de mortalité maternelle le plus bas, sans doute, du monde, 3 morts pour 100.000

w1hit1der
w1hit1der

Nothing here shows that an abortion would have helped this young lady.  It seems the reason the fetus miscarried is still unknown, and probably the cause of death.  Why won't they explain that?

HokeyPokey
HokeyPokey

Those doctors killed her. If that's medical care in Ireland it appears they would have been better off in a third world country where common sense is still an acceptable use of a doctor's brain.

daarong
daarong

When decisions are dictated by reverence for magic, rather than reverence for rational contemplation... tragedies like this are what unfolds. I wonder how many love stories ended in long excruciating deaths of would-be mothers before this one prompted change.

DaljeetSingh
DaljeetSingh

                                              legal defect in Constitution of India are effecting global Economy 

 Govt of India should learn Article 14 Constitution of India Right of  Equality to Irish Constitution and United States of America where legal defect in the Constitution of India is effecting Global Economy . legal defect are following : 

1 Democracy of India is on Election therefore there is no specific provision for Elected Representative for garbing public funds therefore Govt of India should make a specific  provision in Election Commission that any Elected Representative will grab public funds and got any remarks of garbing public funds Till he /her do not get clean chit to Justice system of India he should not be allow to contest any Election in India .

2 As per Article 266 where is Independent and Constitutional Public Accounts Commission of India and State Public Accounts Commission in every states of India  (duty of Constitutional Public Accounts Commission implement transparency  & Accountability agenda in Public Accounts 

the above legal defect in the Constitution of India  are effecting global Economy 

3 Article 14 and Article 16 and 46 effecting every children right in Public Employment ( Article 330 to 342 ) 

4     Article 14 and Article 325 and Article 330 to 342 are legal defect in the Constitution of the India effecting weaker section 

USA got freedom on 1857 and India got freedom on 1947 . In United States of America Public servant and any do not grab a single penny in Public Accounts is a reason United States of America is Number one in World .Every one want to set up in USA .

Therefor United States of America and Irish govt should apply a legal Estoppel on Constitution of India 

patricklee6669
patricklee6669

@Justsnapd8 @puffy_ghost @stick_man_says @blcinsd doctors stopped her miscarriage out of fear of abortion laws knowing her life w in danger

patricklee6669
patricklee6669

@Justsnapd8 @puffy_ghost @stick_man_says @blcinsd refusal to abort the non viable fetus led to a very painful death of her bc complications

jjrtoken
jjrtoken

@Hadrewsky I understand the sentiment, but I would suggest that you are overstating the matter. While religion has legitimized much cultural irrationality it has also tempered and facilitated the transformation of very brutal cultures. Today's anachronism is yesterdays enlightenment. Religion may yet become a good conversation between peers and a dance of wonder and hope.

bookworm12
bookworm12

@jjrtoken  Oh sure, Ireland, you keep staying Irish, even if it means women whose lives could have been saved by having an abortion have to die in the process! Oh sure, that is a lot of sensibility right there! *Sarcastic tone*

And abortion "encourages viciousness in the genome?" You do realize there are a lot of factors that are needed to cause a mutation in the genome right?! Having an abortion isn't one of them!

VegucationMama
VegucationMama

Will you please cite for me the scientific journal that published a verified study indicating that abortions "encourage viciousness in the genome"?

w1hit1der
w1hit1der

@fire_starAngel89 The pregnancy didn't even need to be terminated.  They could have delivered preterm and taken care of both mother and child to the best possible extent.  Abortion has nothing to do with this, it's a diversion to avoid discussing the real issues.

Moez_TN
Moez_TN

.@aquinus Le simple fait d'avoir refusé à une femme l'IVG sur des critères religieux, base de la législation irl. est scandaleux en Occident

googiecat
googiecat

@TMore Ya, of course "Catholic Culture" is going to present a balanced view on abortion issues....come on already.

Justsnapd8
Justsnapd8

@patricklee6669 When the inquiry is complete, we'll all know why Savita died. til then ur speculating @Puffy_Ghost @Stick_Man_Says @blcinsd

Stick_Man_Says
Stick_Man_Says

@patricklee6669 For the record I believe in abortion when life of mother at risk only. View it as self-defense @Justsnapd8 @Puffy_Ghost

jjrtoken
jjrtoken

@bookworm12 @jjrtoken  Decisions that effect mortality have the highest probability of affecting genetic drift. This influence (abortion) that effects mortality directly could arguably said to come primarily from UNPLANNED and unthoughtful pregnancies. I would say it comes from people acting like animals aloof to the social contract and lacking a clear vision of life and its meaning. No plans cus no beliefs. Its like all these benefits of society just poof out of nowhere. They are not seen to start with the foundational relationships being healthy and meaningful. I said nothing about medical necessity which is by far the lesser cause of abortions.

fr_Zil
fr_Zil

@Moez_TN : Alors qu'ailleurs, ce serait normal. @aquinus

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN pas que des critères religieux. On ne vas pas refaire le débat sur l'humanité dès la conception puisqu'on n'est pas d'accord

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN je te remercie pour ta source qui précise mes infos

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN plus faible que la france. donc l'ivg n'est pas une réponse à la mortalité maternelle

aquinus
aquinus

@Moez_TN ok 1) 6 pour 100 000 mais combien directement lié à la grossesse (vs autre maladie par ex) ? 2) c'est bien un des + faible au monde

nofooljule
nofooljule

Surely there's a spanish site you can comment in. You read an english article - pure rude. @aquinus

ray1975
ray1975

@w1hit1der @googiecat @TMore In any logical mindset and as a basic right of mother, the abortion shall be permitted to stop mother's suffering when fetus is dying. It seems Ireland has decided to stay in the medieval time. And the article in CatholicCulture is just diverting the topic by questioning this story and put more pain on injury of this family. And by stating that " Her doctors were authorized to take any actions necessary to save her life.". Obviously this was a completion after a few days, not an immediate treat at the day when they knew fetus is dying. So, the argument of the article of CatholicCulture is invalid. The story and CatholicCulture article demonstrate how deep the religious dogma is in Ireland.