Theology killed Savita Halappanavar

Nice work, Ireland. The Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, must be feeling very proud of you this morning. In Ireland, hospitals damn well do what the church tells them to do, and let women die rather than terminating a miscarrying pregnancy.

Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia at University Hospital Galway a couple of weeks ago, because she had a miscarriage and the hospital refused to abort the dying fetus.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.

She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.

This was a hospital. Not a church. Not the pope’s living room. A hospital.

Mr Halappanavar said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.

“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

She was extremely ill, she was sick and in pain, they knew how to cure her, and they refused to do it. She asked them to and they refused. No, they said. We won’t. You just have to stay sick and get sicker. We refuse to treat you. This is a hospital, we are doctors, and we refuse to treat you.


  1. Maureen Brian says

    Placing adherence to “the law” over saving a woman’s life is bad enough.

    Claiming to do so and then getting the law wrong / failing to ask someone who might know is gross malpractice – whatever the ensuing whitewash may come up with.

    As you would expect, Ireland has a Medical Council and this is what it says in its current guidance

    21 Abortion
    21.1 Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and
    substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the
    mother. Under current legal precedent, this exception includes
    where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother
    arising from a threat of suicide. You should undertake a full assessment of any such risk in light of the clinical research on this issue.
    21.2 It is lawful to provide information in Ireland about abortions
    abroad, subject to strict conditions.
    It is not lawful to encourage
    or advocate an abortion in individual cases.
    21.3 You have a duty to provide care, support and follow-up services
    for women who have an abortion abroad.
    21.4 In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where
    therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy)
    is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the
    baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these
    exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to
    terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while
    making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.

    At a University Hospital attached to a Medical School which claims to teach – oh! my! – Medical Ethics you’d expect someone to know where to find that manual.

    All of which leaves me wondering just how often this sort of thing happens with no-one daring to make a fuss.

    Cross-posted from Pharyngula.

  2. says

    Maureen – exactly. It does happen, and it does pass under the radar. There was a report on the subject in the US a couple of years ago by the National Women’s Law Center.

    [looks it up] Ah – fancy that – the title is “Under the Radar”.

  3. says

    I wonder if it’d be effective to crowd-source raise money for the lawsuit? It’d be nice to see that hospital become yet another financial blackhole for the catholic church.

  4. AsqJames says

    Marcus @3,

    I haven’t seen it said anywhere that the hospital is a Catholic institution or in any way “owned” by the church, so I doubt that would make any difference.

  5. AsqJames says

    What would make a difference is if the government implemented the will of 80% of the Irish population: A September 2012 Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll of 923 people showed that 80% of voters would support a change to the law to allow abortion where the life of the woman was at risk, with 16% opposed and 4% undecided. (source: Wikipedia)

    Such a step would be de minimis in the extreme, but it would at least be a step in the right direction.

  6. briane says

    When will women learn that they are lesser than men, are baby factories for men and as their better/proprietors men will decide the date of women? It’s gods will.

  7. jb says

    hey lets not forget Republican Joe Walsh, who said that abortions were not necessary to save a womans life!

  8. Lyanna says

    This is appalling. It’s murder. This is what Catholic “religious liberty” means: the “liberty” to murder a Hindu woman who comes to their hospital for help, by denying her needed medical care.

    The intellectual dishonesty of the “abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life” sickens, but does not surprise, me. I remember it in the debates over late term abortion in 2003, when the US Congress passed a bill restricting it that did not contain an exception for the woman’s health. (Remember that nauseating picture of Bush signing the law surrounding by a pack of old white males? Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m so thrilled these people got roundly defeated in this election, you have no idea).

    Pro-lifers defended their disgusting bill by claiming that “partial birth abortion” was never necessary to protect the mother’s health.

    Now they’ve kicked it up a notch. It’s apparently not necessary to protect the mother’s life, either.

    There can be no justice for Savita now, but there can be justice for her husband and for women like her. For one thing, hopefully immigrants of Indian descent (who include a large number of qualified, skilled people) will avoid the heck out of Catholic countries now. And for another, hopefully all these protests and all this bad press will do some good.

  9. MatthewLaboratory says

    Pretty disgusting how all the left-wing blogs are harping on this story and using it to smear pro-lifers. Here’s a hint: The vast majority of pro-lifers wouldn’t support and abortion if the woman’s life is in danger and the baby is going to die anyway. So stop taking this as a representative sample of all pro-life policies. Someone might as well point out a murder committed by a liberal and say all liberals are evil murderers.

  10. Rodney Nelson says

    MatthewLaboratory #11

    Here’s a hint: The vast majority of pro-lifers wouldn’t support and abortion if the woman’s life is in danger and the baby is going to die anyway.

    You realize you’ve contradicted yourself in this ungrammatical sentence.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *