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Inquest opens into death of Savita Halappanavar

praveen 208.04.13

Case heard as Irish doctors reject calls for abortion rights when woman’s life at risk

An inquest into the death of Savita Halappananvar, who died in October after contracting septicaemia following a miscarriage – apparently having been denied a therapeutic abortion – has opened in Galway.

Among the first witnesses to give evidence was Praveen Halappanavar, Savita’s husband. Mr Halappanavar has consistently maintained that his repeated requests for a termination were refused over the course of several days as his wife’s condition deteriorated, because a foetal heartbeat was still present and, he was told, because Ireland “is a Catholic country”.

Earlier this month the Irish Health Service Executive apologised to Mr Halappanavar for the care Savita received at Galway University Hospital and the events that contributed to her death. Its draft report on the case has found there was an ‘overemphasis’ on the foetus and an ‘underemphasis’ on Savita’s deteriorating health.

The inquest opens days after doctors at the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation voted against several motions calling for access to abortion in cases of rape, incest, foetal abnormality and risk to the life of the woman.

Although the conference vote only involved a small minority of Irish doctors – the motion on foetal abnormality was defeated by 42 votes to 32 for example – the result has caused dismay among pro-choice advocates and medical professionals.

The Irish Times reports conference delegate, Dr Peadar O’Grady, remarking that to reject the motion, doctors would be saying that they believed a 14 year-old girl who was raped and who had made an informed choice to have an abortion should be forced to carry the pregnancy through. “It would put us as some of the most backward doctors in Europe. ”

The Doctors for Choice group posted several messages from medical professionals on Facebook, expressing their outrage of the result:

‘I feel I need to apologise to my patients on Monday morning. I wasn’t at the AGM and didn’t give the motions a second thought beforehand. Now I’m sorry’

‘As an Irish doctor in New York I’m trying to explain to my colleagues what I think happened at the IMO AGM and why. The old guard won’t be around forever. Keep up the good work for all of us’

The inquest into Savita’s death is likely to last throughout the week. The coroner will hear evidence from 16 witnesses involved in Savita’s treatment including the main consultant responsible for her care and midwives, intensive care team members and a microbiologists. It will also hear from five expert witnesses.