Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran made the comment as he said the Eighth Amendment is “not working” and declared his “surprise” it has taken five years since Savita’s death for a discussion on its removal to take place.
He was speaking during a meeting of the Oireachtas committee on the future of the amendment. That meeting also heard former master of Holles Street Hospital Dr Peter Boylan call for the immediate repeal of existing laws and warn politicians will face “Groundhog day” if it does not happen.
Prof Arulkumaran said the reality is Savita died because of the abortion laws.
Asked specifically by Independent senator Lynn Ruane “if the presence of the Eighth Amendment cost Savita her life”, Prof Arulkumaran said: “It was very clear the things holding the hands of physicians was the legal issue. Anybody, any junior doctor, would have said this is a sepsis condition, we must terminate.
“She did have sepsis. However, if she had a termination in the first days as requested, she would not have had sepsis. We would never have heard of her and she would be alive today,” he said.
The comment was challenged by Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who said there is “lots of differing opinion on that”.
However, Dr Boylan said both he and Prof Arulkumaran “had the opportunity of reviewing her medical notes” so “have an unfair advantage” over the TD.
Prof Arulkumaran also said he was “surprised” by the fact a referendum on the Eighth is only taking place now, telling Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger he made such a recommendation in his 2013 report and “nobody took notice of it”.
The physician separately said the Eighth is “not working” and told Independent senator Ronan Mullen in one heated exchange about a woman dying on her return home from Britain after an abortion: “The mistake is not Marie Stokes. The mistake is with Ireland. That is the root cause.”
Speaking during the same meeting, Prof Boylan told Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer Ireland will face “Groundhog Day” over and over unless the abortion question is answered now.
“We’ll be back,” he said.
In an eight-minute speech to the committee during her own question time, Fine Gael senator Kate O’Connell also strongly called for abortion law reform, saying she was flying back from Britain last week and “walked down the aisle wondering” who was returning from an abortion.
Urging TDs to stop thinking about “our own careers” and telling them “to be brave here”, she asked Prof Arulkumaran, Dr Boylan and Mayo University Hospital specialist Dr Meabh Ní Bhuinneain to “stop pussyfooting about” and say what Ireland should do, saying there was “a need to spell it out”. “Repeal the Eighth and replace it with legislation,” Dr Boylan responded.
Vote not to retain article 40.3.3
The cross-party Oireachtas committee examining Ireland’s abortion laws has made its first key step towards potentially repealing the Eighth Amendment, after agreeing not to retain article 40.3.3 of the constitution in full.
The committee on the future of the eighth amendment confirmed the move last night after voting by a landslide 15 votes to three not to retain the controversial law as it currently stands.
In public session, 15 committee members voted in favour of the proposal not to retain the existing constitutional rule in full, three voted against, two abstained and one member was not present.
The vote means the committee can now examine six general options on what to do next put to it by the group’s senior counsel Nuala Butler.
They are a simple repeal, a repeal on condition the Dáil passes legislation into the constitution, a repeal on condition the Dáil passes legislation in tandem with a referendum, repeal and replacement based on specific grounds, repeal and replacement based on general grounds, and repeal and replacement giving the sole right to legislate to the Oireachtas.
Meanwhile, committee chair and Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone yesterday strongly rejected claims the group is biased in favour of pro-choice views.
Referring to Independent senator Mullen and Independent TD Mattie McGrath’s threat to leave last week, she insisted any critics should say this to the committee and not at external press conferences.
Noting the vote, Mr McGrath said last night “the genie’s out of the bottle now in terms of bias, a blind man could see that, or woman”.