WGNRR Letter to the Irish Prime Minister on the Tragic Death of Savita Halappanavar

21 November 2012

Hon. Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Irish Prime Minister

Re: Death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway

Honourable Taoiseach,

We, a group of civil society activists and advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights, are writing to you to express our concern about the recent death of Savita Halappanavar, who was repeatedly denied an abortion in Galway. This tragic case demonstrates, once again, that the prohibition of abortion in Ireland is not just undermining the autonomy of the women across the country; it is leading to unacceptable suffering and even death.

Savita Halappanavar made repeated requests for an abortion after presenting at University Hospital Galway on 21 October while miscarrying during the 17th week of her pregnancy. Her requests were refused and she spent several days in agonising pain and distress. The miscarriage took more than 48 hours, and when the doctors finally decided to remove the dead foetus, Savita already developed septicaemia, of which she died four days later on October 28th. The reason behind her death is Irish law that only allows abortion in cases where the doctor believes the mother’s life is in danger. Savita’s doctor stated that 'as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything... ’ and, ‘this is a Catholic country’, demonstrating how clinically unworkable and ethically unacceptable the current legal position in Ireland is and how such limitations deny women their basic right to health and life. There are numerous clinical situations in which a serious risk posed to a pregnant woman's health may become a risk to her life, and delaying emergency action only increases that risk. There is only one way to know if a woman's life is at risk: wait until she has died. Medical practitioners must be empowered by law to intervene on the grounds of risk to life and health, rather than wait for a situation to deteriorate.

It is deeply worrying that the government of Ireland -a member state of the European Union- still does not protect, respect and fulfil women’s rights even though they have signed and ratified international instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and ICPD PoA Declarations, which establish sexual and reproductive rights as human rights. A woman’s right to access to integral reproductive health services, including abortion, is ingrained in the international human rights standards, which assures the right to life, health, privacy, and non-discrimination of women.

You will be aware that the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a number of United Nations human rights bodies, has called upon the Irish government to bring its abortion law in line with international human rights standards. Had these calls been heeded before now, the death of Savita Halappanavar would have been prevented.

With the death of Savita Halappanavar, Ireland joins the ranks of countries worldwide where abortion is denied to women and leads to their deaths.

We call on your government, as concerned global citizens in solidarity with pro-choice activists in Ireland, to take urgent and decisive steps to reform the legislation that led to the death of Savita Halappanavar. We urge the Irish government to take the necessary measures to fulfil its international duties in relation to access to reproductive health, including access to safe abortion, in accordance with the international treaties and human rights standards they have signed and ratified. Until the Irish legal system is reformed; the lives, health and autonomy of women across Ireland are in jeopardy.

Yours faithfully,

The Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights