‘The consultant said it was the law’

The heartbroken husband of Savita Halappanavar has spoken of the days leading to her death.

Praveen Halappanavar, 34, claimed his wife was ultimately prevented by a consultant from having a medical termination because “it is the law, that this is a Catholic country”.

Speaking from his native India, the Boston Scientific engineer said his wife, who was 17 weeks pregnant, came to Galway University Hospital on Sunday, Oct 21.

Mr Halappanavar said he believed the pregnancy was going according to plan, but that the couple were soon faced with the prospect of a miscarriage.

“We went back [from the bathroom] and told them [the doctors] what had happened, she [the nurse] again checked the blood pressure and heartbeat and said everything’s OK.

“She checked internally and said she couldn’t see anything coming out or anything. I said ‘can we get a doctor to have a look’. The doctor took a while to make some checks. I was called in and could see Savita standing there in tears and in shock.

“They said they didn’t think the baby could survive. He [the doctor] said ‘unfortunately I’m sorry, we can’t save the baby’,” he told RTÉ’s News At One.

Mr Halappanavar said the heartbroken couple sought information on what should happen next. He said they were told “it will all be over in a few hours and then Savita could go home”.

Instead, the foetus was not passed for three days. When the couple asked if anything could be done to speed up the process, Mr Halappanavar claimed: “The consultant said ‘as long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can do nothing’.

“The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country.

“Savita, who is a Hindu, said ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’, but they said there was nothing they could do.”

Over these three days, before the foetus was finally passed, Mr Halappanavar claimed Savita’s condition deteriorated significantly.

“On Tuesday night, things really started getting worse, all of a sudden she started feeling cold, she was shivering terribly.”

On Friday morning, Mr Halappanavar said he was approached by a midwife who asked if Savita’s relatives — who were travelling from India — had been informed. He claimed the midwife told him Savita was “critically ill” — the first time he was told the news.

“On Friday morning a midwife said you have to tell them that she is critically ill, and that all her family knows about it.

“On Saturday I was told she was still critical, very, very sick, very ill. At around 1am in the night the nurse came running. I was holding her [Savita’s] hand, they were trying to pump her heart. They just lost her.”

World news

The death of Savita Halappanavar sparked global headlines about Ireland’s failure to legislate on abortion.

News outlets in the US, Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, and other countries all carried reports of her death.

The story was a lead item on Sky News and was also covered on US news broadcaster CNN. Business Week also carried reports on the Indian native’s death.

The Washington Post said the debate on “legalising abortion in Ireland flared” after the death of Ms Halappanavar. It pointed out that successive governments had refused to pass legislation allowing for an abortion, in situations when the woman’s life was at risk from continuing the pregnancy, as per the 1992 Supreme Court ruling.

In Britain, The Guardian carried an article by Jill Filipovic who said Ms Halappanavar’s death was “medically unnecessary” and that “in the worst way possible, a woman refused a life-saving abortion in Ireland has proved ‘pro-life’ advocates wrong”. Ms Filipovic said the right to life of the foetus Ms Halappanavar was carrying, which had no chance of survival, literally trumped its mother’s right to life.

The Daily Mirror in Britain focused on the fact that following several requests by Ms Halappanavar for a termination, both she and her husband were told this was not possible as Ireland was “a Catholic country”.

The Huffington Post said Taoiseach Enda Kenny ruled out an external inquiry and gave no indication as to whether he would introduce legislation allowing for abortion in circumstances where the life of the mother was in danger.

— Conall Ó Fátharta

* Read more:

Kenny rejects link to abortion law stance

Reilly: We need clarity but may not require legislation

‘The consultant said it was the law’

‘Don’t use tragedy as reason to legislate’

Legislative minefield, but medical rulings clear

Abortion in Ireland: A legal quagmire

Health official ‘fears there could be other cases’

Tragic death accentuates second-class status of women

Vigils demand abortion law

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