Savita Halapanavar died on Sunday 28 October 2012, seven days after her admission to University Hospital Galway (UHG), where she was treated on St Monica’s Ward, a gynaecology ward within the Women’s and Children’s Directorate of the Hospital. She was a 31-year-old woman who was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child. Her tragic case has been held up ever since as incontrovertible ‘proof’ that the Eighth Amendment is a crude barrier to the delivery of effective medical care and that it actively endangers the treatment of women who have received a diagnosis of maternal sepsis in pregnancy.
The inquiry has been held, and the Irish Times’ infamous ‘first Irish abortion’ story has been shown to be totally and utterly false. Journalist Paul Cullen and his employers at the national broadsheet have disgraced themselves, once again, by their decision to splash a piece of pro-abortion propaganda across the front pages in a cynical attempt to exalt Fine Gael’s abortion legislation – only for that propaganda to be exposed as a lame piece of fiction in less than 24 hours.
On St Stephen’s day the Irish High Court ruled that life-support could be withdrawn from a pregnant woman who had suffered a significant brain trauma and who been pronounced clinically dead three weeks earlier. The case had appeared before the court because doctors were concerned as to how the law should direct them in regard to the life of the unborn baby, who was at approximately 15 weeks gestation when the woman had died. Her family had requested that the life support be withdrawn, because, they told the Court, they believed the chances of the unborn child surviving were minimal.
One of the most common accusations levelled against abortion restriction is the claim that if abortion is prohibited, a market for illegal unsafe “back alley” abortions will inevitably emerge. Therefore, abortion proponents argue, if women are going to get abortions anyway, it is better that they do so legally. While this argument has numerous flaws, one critical point has recently been upset by new research emerging from Chile which demonstrates that the number of illegal abortions actually fell when abortion was banned.
The lack of support for women who experience mental illness during or after pregnancy in Ireland should now be a matter of serious concern. While greater attention is welcome in regards to access for care, much of the discussion in recent times has been towards regarding abortion as a solution for women who are pregnant and mentally ill. Why is abortion continuously the focus of treating mentally ill pregnant women, and why hasn’t the access to mental health care been the focus of this debate all along?
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the factual, compelling and insightful documentary on TV3 last Monday which explained what really led to the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. The documentary used re-enactments of Savita’s time in the hospital, the findings of the HIQA investigation, and interviews with expert commentators, to portray and explore the last week of Savita’s life in University Hospital Galway. Entitled ‘A Silent Killer: Savita’s Story’, the TV3 piece included some revealing interviews, including the commentary of Dr Hema Divakar, head of the Obstetric Societies of India, who said that the E.coli ESBL bacteria which led to Savita’s death was ‘sitting like a time bomb’ and that the hospital ‘didn’t pay enough attention’.
Bimbo Onanuga died having suffered massive internal bleeding when her baby delivered into Ms Onanuga’s abdominal cavity after her womb ruptured. This was an horrific tragedy with abortion at its centre, yet there are no screaming headlines in the Irish Times, no shouts for justice from the national broadcaster, RTÉ, and no vigils arranged by abortion campaigners. That’s because a previous abortion was what led to Ms Onangua’s death – and this case shows that abortion can kill mothers as well as their babies. That’s a fact the Irish media would rather keep quiet.
Dr Peter Boylan is an experienced and expert obstetrician. His views on maternal healthcare should be respected. When he veers into political commentary, however, he has shown himself capable of coming out with the most disingenuous spin. Take the remarks he made recently following Fr Kevin Doran’s comments that the ethos of the Mater Hospital would not allow abortions to take place there.
The Life Institute has called on the Coroner at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar to hear from neutral expert obstetric witnesses on the impact of Irish law on necessary terminations of pregnancy, in order to ensure a balanced view is heard. Spokeswoman Niamh Uí Bhriain said that Dr Peter Boylan had a publicly stated position opposing abortion restrictions, and that it was crucial that Coroner, Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin, heard from other obstetricians who were neutral in relation to the law on abortion. Dr Boylan was also a member of an expert group which recommended the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.
Savita went to Galway University Hospital complaining of back pain. Dr Olutoyele Olatunbosun, a senior house officer in gynaecology, was on call in the obstetrics unit and, as Savita had a history of back pain, she sent her home. Savita returned to the hospital around 1pm and Dr Olatunbosun found that her cervix was dilated and that the membrane surrounding the foetus was bulging into her uterus. She asked specialist obstetrics registrar, Dr Andrew Gaolebale, who was senior to her, for a second opinion.
Top obstetrician, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith Master of the Rotunda has told a major conference of doctors that an intervention that is required to save a mother's life in pregnancy should not be called an abortion. His view was previously stressed by leading Irish Obstetricians who pointed out that intervening to save a mother's life was not an abortion, even where it lead to the death of the baby since there was no intention to harm the child.
What makes Chile and Ireland similar countries in matters of maternal health and abortion? In September 2012 I had the invaluable opportunity to participate as a member of the Committee on Excellence in Maternal Healthcare, convened in Dublin to analyze the experience of Ireland, Chile, and other countries with a high standard in maternal health around the world. The meeting was crowned with the Declaration of Dublin