November 14, 2012 — A 31-year-old pregnant woman died Oct. 28 in the Republic of Ireland after multiple requests for abortion care were denied, BBC News reports.
Savita Halappanavar -- a dentist originally from India -- was having back pain and was miscarrying when she arrived at University Hospital Galway, her family reported. Halappanavar requested an abortion multiple times but hospital staff declined because the fetus had a heartbeat. Halappanavar's husband said medical staff also told him his wife could not obtain an abortion because Ireland was a Catholic country.
An autopsy found that Halappanavar died of septicemia. University Hospital Galway has launched an internal investigation into the incident, and the Health Service Executive has launched a separate investigation (BBC News, 11/14).
Case Underscores Ireland's Strict Abortion Policies
Halappanavar's death "will underline the need for reform" to Ireland's abortion policy, the Guardian reports (McDonald, Guardian, 11/14).
Abortion is outlawed in the Republic of Ireland except when a woman's life is at risk. However, there is no official statute defining the "risk of life to the mother" and the right has seldom been tested. Likewise, Northern Irish law permits abortion only if there is a long-term or permanent physical or mental health risk. The first clinic offering abortions in Ireland opened in October in Northern Ireland's Belfast and is operated by U.K.-based Marie Stopes International (Pollak, Time, 11/12).
The abortion ban forces thousands of Irish women seeking abortion care, including for reasons of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, to travel to Great Britain. Since 1980, at least 138,000 women have traveled abroad from Ireland to obtain abortions, according to the Irish Family Planning Association (Guardian, 11/14).
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Republic of Ireland government unlawfully denied abortion care to a woman whose life was at risk. The government set up a panel of experts to examine and report on the European court's ruling, which is expected before the end of this year.
The launch of the Marie Stopes clinic, along with growing support for the legalization of abortion in Ireland, could force the island's primarily Catholic lawmakers and institutions to revisit the ban, Time reports (Time, 11/12).