Daily Dispatches
A woman holds a photo of Savita Halappanavar during a candle lit vigil in Belfastl, Northern Ireland.
Associated Press/Photo by Peter Morrison
A woman holds a photo of Savita Halappanavar during a candle lit vigil in Belfastl, Northern Ireland.

Pro-life laws did not cause miscarriage death in Ireland


The Irish woman who died in October 2012 during a difficult pregnancy did not lose her life because doctors refused to abort her baby.

Although pro-abortion advocates in Ireland rallied around 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar’s death as an impetus to change the country’s pro-life laws, a jury found Friday that the hospital’s mismanagement of sepsis, a severe blood infection, actually caused her death. 

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After Halappanavar died, pro-abortion protesters filled the streets calling to overturn laws that make abortion illegal in Ireland except when the life of the mother is in danger. Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, said her death could have been prevented if their 17-week-old unborn baby had been aborted. But doctors refused to abort the child because it had a heartbeat.

Testimony at Friday’s inquest revealed an extreme case of sepsis coupled with a late diagnoses of the infection led to Halappanavar’s death.

Retired medical consultant Dr. Peter Kelehan said Halappanavar had the most severe case of sepsis he had ever seen in his 30-year career. The infection led to multi-organ failure. The septic shock was caused by a particularly virulent form of E.coli, with the miscarriage as an additional factor. 

While a blood test was taken when Halappanavar entered the hospital, information about her infection was not passed on the doctors treating the mother. Experts testified that if doctors had known she had sepsis, they would have induced the pregnancy to save her life. Although the baby would not have survived, the action is still legal under the current law because the life of the mother would have been in danger.

By the time the infection was found, it had already taken serious hold and her baby miscarried before they could induce the pregnancy. 

Dr. Katherine Astbury, who treated Halappanavar, said she denied the patient’s request to abort the baby because at the time she had not yet been diagnosed with the infection.  But once the sepsis was clear, Astbury “informed Ms. Halappanavar that if the source of the infection was not identified we would have no option but to consider termination regardless of fetal heartbeat,” she said. 

The jury accepted nine recommendation from the coroner, Dr. Ciaran MacLoughlin, none of which had to do with changing Ireland’s abortion laws. It did ask the Medical Council to lay out “exactly when a doctor can intervene to save the life of the mother in similar circumstance,” but mainly addressed protocol in dealing with sepsis and improved communication within hospitals.

Praveen Halappanavar said he still didn’t have clarity about his wife’s death and called the treatment his wife received “horrendous.” He said he is considering further action.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute, an Irish pro-life group, said after Halappanavar’s death it was sad to see “abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case to further their own agenda.”

“The tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar’s life was not caused by Ireland’s ban on abortion. We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected, and abortion is not part of best medical practice. It is medieval medicine.”

Angela Lu
Angela Lu

Angela is a reporter for WORLD Magazine who lives and works in Taiwan. She enjoys cooking, reading, and storytelling. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.


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