World | India

Full inquest into Savita’s death set for April

Case has re-opened bitter Irish debate on a mother’s rights and abortion

  • By Mick O’Reilly, Senior Associate Editor
  • Published: 16:01 January 20, 2013
  • Gulf News

Dubai: An inquest into the death of an Indian dentist who died in October after medical staff at an Irish hospital refused to terminate her miscarrying pregnancy is set to last at least a week when it convenes on April 8.

Savita Halappanavar died in University Hospital Galway from septicaemia and an E Coli infection on October 28, a week after she presented there suffering from back pain and miscarrying 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Staff refused to terminate the pregnancy because they detected a foetal heartbeat. Under a strict interpretation of the anti-abortion clause in Ireland’s constitution, the rights of foetus to life needs to be upheld.

Halappanavar’s miscarriage lasted four days and she died three days later from an infection that overwhelmed her immune system.

On Friday, a preliminary inquest into her death was held in a Galway courtroom. The coroner, Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin, deferred the hearing until April 8 and set aside at least a week for the full inquest at which 45 expert witnesses are expected to give testimony.

Speaking after the 45-minute hearing, Praveen Halappanavar said the past months since Savita’s death had been a “tough journey”.

“Basically, everyone knows me now,” Halappanavar told The Irish Times. “There has been huge support from my friends and my colleagues in work, so that has been some kind of boost. That has given me strength. I believe I am getting the strength from someone, from Savita. That’s the kind of person she was. She was always there for me.”

An estimated 4,000 women leave Ireland each year to terminate crisis pregnancies, mostly using abortion facilities in the United Kingdom. The Dublin government is planning to allow for limited medical interventions but any tinkering with the pro-life clause — on which two separate referendums were held over the past two decades — is bitterly contentious in the country where the Roman Catholic church still holds considerable sway.

On Saturday, an estimated 25,000 pro-life activists attended a rally in central Dublin to oppose changes in the anti-abortion policy.

“Ireland is almost unique in the Western world in looking out for, and fully protecting, two patients during a pregnancy — a mother and her unborn child,” pro-life activists and Irish football personality Mickey Harte told the rally. “We are here to oppose the unjust targeting of even one unborn child’s life in circumstances that have nothing to do with genuine life-saving medical interventions.”

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