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Posts Tagged ‘ galway university hospital ’

Ireland And Abortion : A History Of Silence…

 Where were you on February 23 1992? Me, I was three years old and more than likely playing with my prized collection of Barbie dolls blissfully unaware of the court case that was rocking the Irish nation.

The case I’m referring to is of course The X Case and February 23 is the day the chaos eventually came to an end with the Supreme Court ruling (after a long and hardy battle) that a pregnant and suicidal fourteen year old was in fact entitled to an abortion.

Previous to this only the physical health of the mother was taken into account when deciding whether or not she was entitled to an abortion but this ruling meant that for the first time ever a woman’s mental health as well as the very real threat of suicide would also be taken into consideration.

Today, twenty years since that judgement was first handed down, I’m sorry to say Irish women are still waiting for the legislation that will allow them access to life-saving terminations.

Here, I take a look at what is perhaps the most controversial and divisive topic of our time; abortion and the Irish Governments damning history of silence…

The X Case

The X Case is without a doubt one of the most controversial and closely followed legal battles in the history of the state. Not only did it spark outrage and debate amongst Irish citizens but it also drove thousands of people – both pro choice and pro life – to demonstrations across the country.

It all began in December 1991 when a fourteen year old girl known only as X was raped by a man known to her and her family. Just one month later, following a bout of illness which forced the girl to visit her local GP, both her and her parents were informed that she had in fact become pregnant. It was then that the youth finally broke down and admitted that her attacker had been sexually abusing her for two years.

Immediately the attack and the years of abuse were reported to local Gardai and investigations began. Meanwhile, unable to tolerate the thought of carrying to full term her rapists child the fourteen year old and her parents decided it would be best for her to travel to England in order to undergo an abortion. Before doing so however they asked Gardai if the foetus could be tested in order to provide proof of paternity as the accused was denying all responsibility. The Gardai then asked The Director of Public Prosecutions if this evidence would be admissible in court who in turn contacted The Attorney General Henry Whelehan who immediately sought an injunction under Article 40.3.3 of the constitution – at the time this put the unborn child’s right to life on equal footing with that of the mother – which barred the teenager and her parents from leaving the country or terminating the pregnancy. Already in England the family were then forced to return to Ireland.

The first injunction barring the girl from leaving the state only lasted until February 10th at which point her case was then tried in front of Justice Costello. Despite hearing testimony from a clinical psychologist who felt the girl was at high risk for suicide and from her distraught mother who related how her teenage daughter had admitted wanting to throw herself down a flight of stairs and even considered throwing herself under a train while in London, Justice Costello eventually decided that the right to life of the unborn child should not be interfered with and ruled that the defendant must be restrained from leaving Ireland for a period of nine months.

“The evidence also establishes that if the court grants the injunction sought there is a risk that the defendant may take her own life. But the risk that the defendant may take her own life, if an order is made, is much less and of a different order of magnitude than the certainty that the life of the unborn will be terminated if the order is not made.”

Determined to see what they believed was justice served the defendant and her parents immediately sought an appeal from the Supreme Court. The teenagers legal team argued that the High Court judge was “wrong in law” in finding that the danger to the life of the mother was less than the danger to the life of the unborn.

On the final day of proceedings the Supreme Court judge ruled that the decision of the High Court should be set aside and the youngster was permitted to undergo an abortion. It is understood, however, that while awaiting termination the girl suffered a miscarriage.

Interesting to note is the fact that the victim’s perpetrator was tried, jailed, and eventually had his sentence severely reduced on appeal only to go on to kidnap and sexually assault another teenager in 1999.

The Referendum

As a direct result of The X Case and the Supreme Courts ruling the Irish Government put forward three possible amendments to the Constitution in a referendum. These amendments were known as the 12th, 13th and 14th amendments.

The 12th amendment asked to remove suicide as grounds for abortion, the 13th amendment asked that women should have the right to travel outside the state for abortion and finally the 14th amendment asked that information about abortion should be made available in the State.

Given that we are constantly hearing how severely opposed to abortion the people of Ireland – such a devout Catholic country – are you would expect that the 12th amendment passed where the 13th and 14th failed. In actuality the opposite is true.

History Is Forced To Repeat Itself

Despite the results of these referenda, the Irish Government did not act on them, and in 1997 history repeated itself with The C Case. This time a thirteen year old girl was forced to delay the termination the courts eventually declared she was fully entitled to in line with her basic human rights and in light of the X case ruling.

Instead of tackling the issue then and granting the Irish people what they had already asked for in the previous referendum the government engaged in what many critics have called “delay tactics,” commissioning more reports and expert committees on the subject. This continued until 2002 when then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, held another referendum asking what was essentially the same question as that of the failed referendum of 1992 – should we remove the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion. A decade later the Irish public issued the same answer, no. Once again they voted to support the X Case decision. Regrettably despite this, the second vote on the issue, legislation was still not forthcoming. Having yet again failed to address the issue of abortion the Irish Government ensured that women in need of what are in many cases life saving operations would not have access to them here in Ireland – Baffling considering the Supreme Courts ruling concerning the X case and indeed the two referendums in which the Irish public voted in favour of termination if and when the mothers life is in danger.

Dr Mark Murphy who has carried out and published extensive research into the States abortion crisis has found countless cases in which mothers threatened by a real and substantial risk to their lives were ultimately forced to travel abroad for a termination of their pregnancy. Dr Murphy found that 9% of GPs had managed a patient with a life threatening medical condition (including but not limited to cancer patients who required abortions in order to avail of chemotherapy, women with severe cardiovascular disease and those at severe psychiatric risk such as rape victims) however he recorded only one instance of an Irish doctor performing a termination in an Irish hospital – in the case of severe preeclampsia.

Savita Halappanavar

While I do not intend to belittle the pain and trauma suffered by these women who had to fight so hard simply to access the medical care that would allow them a chance at life perhaps the most shocking and heartbreaking case of all is that of Savita Halappanavar a woman who critics of Ireland’s antiquated and draconian abortion regime have dubbed a “martyr to the political cowardice” of our government. Savita, you see, did not have the opportunity to take her case to the courts.

If the X case gripped the nation twenty years ago then it is the tragic tale of Savita Halappanavar that is all but consuming the people of Ireland today. Two weeks ago Mrs Halappanavar who was 17 weeks pregnant and suffering intense back pain was admitted to Galway University Hospital where it was soon discovered that she was in fact miscarrying. As time went on it became clear that the child she was carrying would not survive and both Savita and her husband were made aware of this. Now in terrible pain Savita requested – on numerous occasions – a medical termination as did her husband Praveen only to be told that nothing could be done for her as a fetal heartbeat could still be detected. Having further questioned the hospitals decision the couple were then informed that an abortion could not be carried out as Ireland was a “catholic country”

Eventually, following three more days of agony in which the couple repeatedly begged for a termination doctors finally agreed to remove the remains of the fetus. Sadly, it was just days before Mrs Halappanavar showed signs of severe septicemia (this occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream) which later proved to be fatal and at 1.10 a.m. on October 28 the 31 year old was pronounced dead.

It is understood that had the fetus been removed earlier the life of this woman, a beloved wife and daughter, could have been saved. Multiple investigations into Savita’s tragic and seemingly needless death are currently being carried out. This, however, will do little to ease the troubles of Mr Halappanavar a man who lost both his unborn child and wife within a matter of days.

Medical Confusion

As difficult as this may be for some to hear the Irish government’s failure to create definitive legislate concerning the issue of abortion is not only unfair to the women of the country but all those in the medical profession. Doctors want to provide safe and effective care for patients but legislation is required in order for them to provide that care. In other words they need clear guidelines for managing difficult situations such as that of Mrs Halappanavar’s. Addressing the nations current stance on abortion Dr Murphy said “To delineate and categorise those medical conditions on each side of that nebulous line between ill health and life threatening illness is difficult.” Personally I would be of the opinion that it is just too difficult. When it comes to matters of life and death I think we can all agree that the last thing we need is “grey areas”

Of course this is where our politicians and legislators are supposed to step in and provide legal clarity but even now despite rulings from the Supreme Court, referendum results, the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Irish State is continuing to breach the human rights of every woman in the country due to their failure to implement a legislative or regulatory framework outlining their abortion rights, and countless medical professionals leaving them in no doubt as to what is required those in power have failed to take action and ultimately failed to protect the women of Ireland and their families.

Enough

Just what is it that our leaders are waiting for? Another fourteen year old rape victim to test her rights within the courts? A desperately ill cancer patient to beg for a shot at life or perhaps another unnecessary death such as that of Savita Halappanavar? The people have spoken and they have said, enough. We have had enough of the antiquated and draconian notion that a living breathing woman’s right to life is valued even below that of an unviable fetus, enough of exporting dying women to England in order to undergo the lifesaving abortions they should have access to within their own country, enough of women like Savita dying needlessly and others in similar situations enduring days of agony simply because this is a “catholic country.” Yes, we the people of Ireland have had enough.

A debate is scheduled to take place in The Dail today – Wednesday 28th of November – let’s hope a real effort is made to eliminate medical confusion and find a solution to the abortion crisis in our country. Maybe then the almost 21 year wait will somehow seem worth it.

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No Record Of Abortion Request In Savita Case

Since the death of Savita Halapannavar following a miscarriage on the 28th October at University Hospital Galway her devastated husband Praveen has been fighting with the help of his solicitor Gerard O’Donnell to prevent a HSE inquiry into her death.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner Mr O’ Donnell confirmed that Mr Halapannavar’s legal team had requested that Savita’s medical records be handed over to her family and that any HSE copies be deleted immediately.

The solicitor said that it was his understanding, based on previous cases, that the HSE must comply with this request. Continuing Mr O Donnell warned that if the HSE failed to meet with this request that Mr Halapannavar’s entire legal team are fully prepared to file a complaint with the Data Protection Commissioner and if necessary obtain a High Court injunction to “restrain” any further access this particular group may gain to the files in question.

Mr O’Donnell then went on to criticise Taoiseach Enda Kenny for his comments on the case in which he said that widower Praveen should meet the chairman of the HSE’s inquiry “without prejudice” as this would be “in the interest of his own family’s tragedy.”

Given that it is his wish that any investigation into the death of his wife be fully independent Mr Halapannavar has already refused to cooperate with the HSE. Speaking on behalf of his client who wished to defend his decisions thus far Mr O’Donnell said “His wife died in the care of the HSE. He doesn’t think it’s appropriate nor does his family think it’s appropriate that the HSE should investigate it. They are the ones who are being investigated, so they should not investigate this.”

In what is perhaps a very surprising turn of events it was claimed, mere hours ago, by Mr O Donnell that having gained access to and studied closely Savita’s medical records that there is absolutely no mention of her or her husband’s repeated requests to have the fetus terminated after it was confirmed by hospital staff that Savita was in fact miscarrying and that the fetus would not survive.

The revelation came at the same time that it was announced that the HSE had asked the State’s health watchdog HIQA to initiate a statutory inquiry into the death of Savita Halapannavar. A move which may have been decided upon after an unprecedented intervention on the part of President Michael D Higgins who yesterday insisted that the inquiry into the woman’s death must meet the needs of her family as well as the state.

However, the director general designate of the HSE Tony O’Brien has since said that even if Mrs Halapannavar’s family decide not to cooperate with the HSE’s inquiry that it must still “be brought to a conclusion” It his belief that it would be “criminally negligent” to put an end to the HSE’s inquiry at this stage.

Mr O Brien claims that he requested the HIQA inquiry which may take place before the HSE’s inquiry concludes in order to give the family “further reassurance.” Only time will tell if this will in fact help to ease the worries of Mr Praveen Halapannavar and his family.

By Kerrie Mitchell

Pregnant Woman Dies After Hospital Denies Termination

A pregnant woman has died in hospital following a miscarriage just days after being refused the abortion that may have saved her life.

By Kerrie Mitchell

Three separate investigations have been launched into the death of 31 year old married Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, following her death in Galway University Hospital.

It is understood that Mrs Halappanavar who lived in Roscam, Co. Galway with her husband, 34 year old Praveen, an engineer employed by Boston Scientific, died on October 28th after contracting a severe case of blood poisoning.

Mrs Halappanavar was admitted to Galway University Hospital a week earlier complaining of intense back pain where it was quickly discovered that the woman, now 17 weeks pregnant, was in fact miscarrying. Her husband Praveen claims that despite repeated requests from both his wife and her family for a medical termination hospital officials refused to carry out the procedure because a foetal heartbeat could still be detected.

It has also been reported – by numerous sources – that when Mr Halappanavar questioned the hospitals refusal to carry out the abortion he was informed by officials that it was not allowed because Ireland is a “Catholic country.”

Although the procedure was delayed a further three days, Mrs Halappanavar did eventually undergo surgery to remove the remains of the fetus. Following this the woman subsequently developed septicemia (this occurs when bacteria enters the blood stream) an infection which proved to be fatal. At 1.10 a.m. on October 28 Mrs Halappanavar was pronounced dead.

Now, Mrs Halappanavars distraught family is said to be taking legal action against the hospital claiming that if the fetus had in fact been removed earlier the life of this woman, a beloved wife and daughter, could have been saved.

Three separate investigations are now being carried out by the coroner in Galway, the local hospital’s risk review group and the HSE’s National Incident Management Team.

A spokesperson for the Hospital has refused to comment saying that the hospital cannot under any circumstances discuss the details of an individual patient within the media.

Undoubtedly this tragic case will re-open the debate on abortion which is perhaps Ireland’s most controversial and divisive social, legal and medical issue.

Currently, Ireland’s position in relation to abortion is set out in the Constitution as follows “it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland if it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by a termination of the pregnancy.” This ruling also takes into account the mental health of the mother in question and the potential risk posed to her life which may arise from the threat of suicide.

Naturally this particular case will enrage pro-choice campaigners who will argue that this proves that abortions are not taking place in those cases where the mothers life is in fact at risk while pro-life campaigners will counter that matters are much more complex than this.

In what many reporters are dubbing a “terrible irony” this case comes just days after the Irish Government delayed revealing its stance on abortion. Health Minister Dr James Reilly was originally scheduled to report back to a European body by the end of October on the Government’s proposed actions following the ruling of the European Court Of Human Rights on the abortion regime in this country. Two years ago the Strasbourg Court criticised the Irish Government for leaving its own courts with a lack of clear information regarding lawful abortions. Dr Reilly now has just weeks to set out a plan to respond to the Courts ruling.

Over 1,000 people gathered outside Dàil Eireann last night in order to vent their fury at Ireland’s abortion stance following Savita’s death. Large crowds also assembled in Cork and other parts of the country to protest.

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