NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Charities in India have slammed Irish authorities following the death of an Indian woman who was refused an abortion in a hospital in Ireland last month.
Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist living in Ireland’s western city of Galway, died of septicaemia on October 28 after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week-old foetus.
The incident has sparked protests in Ireland and India by women’s rights and political groups, who say the refusal to abort contributed to her death. Her death has also pressured the government of Ireland, a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, to clarify its stance on abortion.
“While there is no single law specific to men that states when, where or how medical care should be provided, governments (around the world) enact laws that prescribe, confuse and curtail a woman’s access to safe abortion services,” said Anjali Sen, South Asia director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
“Right and necessary care could have saved her (Halappanavar’s) life. It is inexcusable that doctors, instead of undertaking efforts to save her, watched her die.”
IPPF, a federation of 152 members, provides sexual and reproductive health information and services, including safe abortions, to thousands of women around the world.
Halappanavar was admitted to hospital in severe pain on October 21 and asked for a termination after doctors told her the baby would not survive, according to her husband Praveen.
The foetus was surgically removed when its heartbeat stopped days later, but her family believes the delay contributed to the blood poisoning that killed Halappanavar a week later.
Irish law does not specify under what circumstances the threat to the life or health of the mother is great enough to justify a termination - leaving doctors to decide.
While there have been huge protests in Ireland, Halappanavar’s death has also caused widespread public outrage in India.
National television stations and newspapers have widely reported the case, prompting the Indian government to express concern and regret over the circumstances surrounding her death.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party held a protest outside the Irish embassy in Delhi on Friday demanding an enquiry, while rallies took place in the southern cities of Bangalore, as well as Belgaum where Halappanavar is from, calling for the Irish government to amend its abortion laws.
The Irish health authority has launched an inquiry, which the health minister said needed to “stand up to the scrutiny of the world.”
But local media reported that Halappanavar’s father was planning to write to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to call for an “independent probe” into his daughter’s death.
Some groups in India have used the case to illustrate the wider problem of a woman’s access to safe abortion, even in countries where such surgeries are permitted but are not regulated adequately or in places where abortion rights are influenced by societal beliefs.
“Even in India, where abortion has been legal under stated circumstances, there is a crying need to ensure that access to safe abortion services is a reality for women,” said Viswanath Koliwad, Secretary General of Family Planning Association India.
“We cannot afford to lose another Savita,” he said. “It sounds incredible that this can happen in the 21st century.”
Almost 47,000 women die every year due to unsafe abortions or related complications because health providers and policies are divided, undecided and unclear about the importance of a woman’s life, says the IPPF.
TrustLaw is a global hub for free legal assistance and news and information on good governance and women's rights run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more stories, visit www.trust.org/trustlaw