A midwife has apologised for telling Savita Halappanavar who was suffering a miscarriage that she could not have a termination in Ireland because it was a “Catholic thing”.
Ann-Maria Burke admitted she made the remark to Savita in University Hospital Galway but insisted she meant it in kindness.
The senior midwife said she used the reference to Catholic teaching after the 31-year-old dentist said she was Hindu and she would have ended her pregnancy in her home country.
“I did mention it’s a Catholic country,” Ms Burke told Galway coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin.
“I didn’t mention it in a hurtful context. It was in a conversation we had.”
Ms Burke said she regrets making the statement, which the coroner said “went around the world”.
“I’m sorry that I said it,” she added.
Mrs Halappanavar, 31, was admitted to hospital on Sunday October 21 and delivered a dead baby daughter on Wednesday October 24.
She died the following Sunday of a heart attack caused by septicaemia due to E.coli.
The inquest, in its third day at Galway courthouse, has heard claims that a consultant obstetrician, Dr Katherine Astbury, made the remark to Mrs Halappanavar and her husband Praveen, and also that the midwife said it.
Dr Astbury, who was cross-examined over her treatment of Mrs Halappanavar for several hours today, denies using the phrase.
But the consultant has admitted there were system failures in her care and she also warned of a lack of legal clarity for doctors treating pregnant women who suffer health risks.
Mrs Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital in pain.
Dr Astbury revealed there is confusion over how her patient was cared for, including that she had been unaware of blood test abnormalities and that the patient’s vitals should have been checked more regularly after her foetal membrane ruptured.
The senior medic was asked by coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin if the two aspects of Mrs Halappanavar’s care could be seen as system failures.
“Yes,” she replied.
Dr Astbury revealed that she initially refused a request from the Halappanavars to terminate the pregnancy two days after her admission to hospital as at that time there was no risk to her life.
“She was well,” said Dr Astbury under cross-examination.
“There was no risk to her life.
“If you need to give somebody medication to deliver and there’s a foetal heartbeat, my understanding is that legally you are considered to be terminating.”
Dr Astbury spoke in a loud, clear voice as widower Praveen Halappanavar, who claims she made the Catholic remark, sat with his friend, a Galway-based consultant Dr CVR Prasad, who read through documents.
She addressed the Irish Medical Council guidelines on abortion which refer to terminating a pregnancy if there is a risk to the mother’s life.
She said her understanding was that they relate to conditions such as cancer, such as women getting radiotherapy, cervical care or a hysterectomy.
“My understanding is that this is a case where a woman is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, usually unrelated to the pregnancy,” she said.
Dr MacLoughlin asked if there was confusion over the interpretation of the guidelines.
“There’s no law to tell you what you what is permitted or not permitted,” she replied.
Dr Astbury insisted that when she told Mrs Halappanavar she could not abort the baby on the Tuesday, she used the words: “In this country it is not legal to terminate a pregnancy on grounds of poor prognosis of the foetus.”
The doctor agreed that in other jurisdictions Mrs Halappanavar would have been offered the option of a termination if the prognosis of her foetus was poor.
“The law in Ireland does not permit termination even if there’s no prospect of viability,” she said.