Thirty one year old Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she entered Ireland’s University Hospital Galway in severe pain on October 21. The doctors confirmed that she was miscarrying, but refused to give her an abortion on the grounds that the fetus’ heart was still beating, telling her “this is a Catholic country.” Two and a half days later, the fetal heartbeat stopped. On October 28th, Halappanavar died of septicaemia and E. coli infection caused by the dead fetus.
Despite the fact that the Irish government made abortion legal in the case of a “real and substantive risk” to the mother’s life two decades ago, this has hardly been manifested in real changes to legislation and medical guidelines.
At what point do we decide that it is okay to make medical decisions based on faith, rather than the welfare of the patient, that an unviable fetus should be given priority over a woman’s life? Her death has sparked a conversation about the current Irish law surrounding reproductive rights, and it has reminded us all of the importance of providing women with adequate healthcare. Perhaps out of this tragedy, tangible change will sprout in Ireland. But regardless of any inadvertent positive effects, this should never have happened.