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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 24 October, 2014

Calls for X Case legislation after woman denied an abortion dies in Galway hospital

Savita Praveen Halappanavar died from septicaemia following a miscarriage which lasted almost three days. She repeatedly asked for the foetus to be removed but her requests were turned down.

Image: MARCELODLT via Shutterstock

THERE HAVE BEEN renewed calls for the government to legislate for the X Case following the death of a 31-year-old woman who was denied an abortion at University Hospital Galway.

A candlelit vigil is to be held in Eyre Square in Galway for Savita Praveen Halappanavar, who died two and a half weeks ago after developing septicaemia from a miscarriage which lasted more than two days.  A protest calling for legislation for abortion when a woman’s life is in danger will be held outside the Dáil this evening.

Savita Halappanavar had originally presented to the hospital on 21 October complaining of severe back pain. She was found to be undergoing a miscarriage; however, the foetus remained inside her body and a foetal heartbeat was detected.  Her husband, Praveen, told the Irish Times that as Savita became ill and her condition deteriorated over the following days, she repeatedly asked for the foetus to be removed.

However, the foetus was not removed until 24 October – almost three days from when Savita was first admitted to the hospital – after the foetal heartbeat had stopped.

Immediately afterwards Savita was brought to a high dependency unit in the hospital suffering from septicaemia. She died four days later on Sunday 28 October.

Under the 1992 X Case ruling, the Supreme Court found that abortion is permitted in Ireland under the Constitution in circumstances where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. However no government has yet introduced legislation to enact the ruling, creating a grey area for medical practitioners.

A committee appointed to examine how Ireland should respond to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on the country’s abortion law is expected to produce a report shortly, after a delay of more than four months.

A number of groups advocating for abortion legislation have said Savita’s death increases the pressure on the current government to introduce laws based on the Supreme Court ruling.

“This is not an issue about TDs’ views on abortion, it is simply an issue of giving effect to existing constitutional rights and respecting the result of two referenda in which the Irish people rejected rolling back on the X Case,” said Sinead Ahern of Choice Ireland.

Action on X and Galway Pro-Choice, which both advocate for abortion legislation, called on the government to immediately introduce legislation to end the uncertainty around current practices.

“This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner,” said Rachel Donnelly of Galway Pro-Choice. “Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences”.

A candlelit vigil for Savita is to take place at Browne’s Doorway on Eyre Square in Galway at 5pm on Saturday organised by Galway Pro-Choice.

A spokesperson for University Hospital in Galway was not immediately available to comment on the case.

Read: Ireland and abortion: the facts >

Read: Overdue report from abortion expert group due ‘shortly’ >

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