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'Never Again': In Memory of Savita, the Indian Behind Irish Abortion Law Reform

"Never Again" read posters raised by protesters in Dublin on the 10th death anniversary of Savita Halappanavar.

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"Never Again", "Health. Equality. Bodily Autonomy" – read several posters raised by those who gathered in Dublin on Saturday, 29 October, on the tenth death anniversary of Savita Halappanavar.

Savita, who hailed from Karnataka, had lost her life in Ireland on 28 October 2012, after a septic miscarriage. Her death could have been averted, had she been allowed to terminate her pregnancy by the the University Hospital in Galway.

Her case became a turning point in Ireland’s history as it propelled a landmark referendum in 2018, in which over 66 percent voted to legalise abortion.

Ten years after her death, speakers at the populated vigil march in Dublin on Saturday demanded better abortion rights in Ireland, advocating for the removal of the three-day wait period, and the 12-week limit to enable abortion on request, clips circulated on social media showed.

'Never Again': In Memory of Savita, the Indian Behind Irish Abortion Law Reform

  1. 1. Who Was Savita?

    Savita Halappanavar was a dentist of Indian origin – belonging to Belgaum, Karnataka. She moved to Ireland in 2008, and lived in Galway with her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, who was working as an engineer with Boston Scientific.

    The couple had been preparing for the birth of her first child in 2012, when a conservative legal technicality cost Savita her life.

    She had died of sepsis – a life threatening infection – in 2012, after she was denied an abortion on legal grounds in Galway, after suffering a miscarriage.
    Expand
  2. 2. What Exactly Happened to Savita?

    Savita, 17-weeks-pregnant on 21 October 2012, had visited the University Hospital Galway, complaining of back pain and the sensation of "something coming down."

    After examination, it was found that her gestational sac was protruding from her body. As a miscarriage was unavoidable, Savita was admitted to the hospital. Hours later, in the wee hours of 22 October, her water broke. But, the foetus did not get expelled.

    On 23 October, Halappanavar pleaded for an abortion, an appeal that was promptly refused by her consulting physician, as the Irish law at that time forbade medical termination of pregnancy if a foetal heartbeat could be detected.

    She waited for days until the heartbeat stopped. The contents of her womb were removed on 27 October. By then, she had developed septicemia, a kind of blood poisoning which causes damage to internal organs.

    Savita died of cardiac arrest on 28 October. She was 31 at the time of her death.

    Praveen, her husband, told the local media later that she had been "in agony" during her final three days and had requested several times for an abortion. The couple were, however, told that “this is a Catholic country."

    "I am neither Irish, nor Catholic," Savita had told the doctors in response, but to no avail.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Did Her Case Change the Law in Ireland?

    An investigation into Savita's death by Ireland’s national health service determined that the confusion over the country’s abortion law was a contributing factor in her death. Her death was due to "medical misadventure," the inquest said in its verdict.

    Dr Peter Boylan, the former master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, had told the inquest that Savita would probably still be alive today if she had got a termination in the first three days of her stay in the hospital, prior to developing a real or substantive risk to her life. However, he added that under the Irish law, that would have been illegal.

    The inquest also found that there were also communication failures, between medical and nursing staff, that the evidence showed that her blood test results were not followed up and pulse rates not taken.

    The revelation of the circumstances of Savita's death had led to widespread outrage. Thousands joined protests and candle-light vigils that were held across Ireland, demanding fundamental amendments in the abortion law.

    The Irish police in Dublin had recorded 12,000 people marching from Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to the Irish parliament in November 2012 – the largest such demonstration.

    The 'Yes Campaign' for easing restrictions on abortion in Savita's name grew louder over the years, and in 2018, a referendum was held to repeal the Eighth Amendment that effectively barred women from having abortions under most circumstances.

    Expand
  4. 4. 'She Would Be Proud Of Her Legacy': Friends Recall Savita on 10th Death Anniversary

    Mrudula Vasepalli, a fellow dentist, remembered Savita as a "special person who spread much love through compassion, dance and her warm smile."

    "Never in a million years did we think she would die," the friend of Savita's told Irish news website Independent.ie on her tenth death anniversary.

    Vasepalli had visited Savita at the hospital on 23 October, five days before the latter's death.

    However, Savita would have been proud of her legacy and the change she created for the women of Ireland, say her friends.

    "She was never a person for herself. She was always about others, and that’s exactly what she did when she left us," Shilpa Rose Renjith, who lives in Galway, told The Sunday Times Ireland.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Who Was Savita?

Savita Halappanavar was a dentist of Indian origin – belonging to Belgaum, Karnataka. She moved to Ireland in 2008, and lived in Galway with her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, who was working as an engineer with Boston Scientific.

The couple had been preparing for the birth of her first child in 2012, when a conservative legal technicality cost Savita her life.

She had died of sepsis – a life threatening infection – in 2012, after she was denied an abortion on legal grounds in Galway, after suffering a miscarriage.
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What Exactly Happened to Savita?

Savita, 17-weeks-pregnant on 21 October 2012, had visited the University Hospital Galway, complaining of back pain and the sensation of "something coming down."

After examination, it was found that her gestational sac was protruding from her body. As a miscarriage was unavoidable, Savita was admitted to the hospital. Hours later, in the wee hours of 22 October, her water broke. But, the foetus did not get expelled.

On 23 October, Halappanavar pleaded for an abortion, an appeal that was promptly refused by her consulting physician, as the Irish law at that time forbade medical termination of pregnancy if a foetal heartbeat could be detected.

She waited for days until the heartbeat stopped. The contents of her womb were removed on 27 October. By then, she had developed septicemia, a kind of blood poisoning which causes damage to internal organs.

Savita died of cardiac arrest on 28 October. She was 31 at the time of her death.

Praveen, her husband, told the local media later that she had been "in agony" during her final three days and had requested several times for an abortion. The couple were, however, told that “this is a Catholic country."

"I am neither Irish, nor Catholic," Savita had told the doctors in response, but to no avail.

0

How Did Her Case Change the Law in Ireland?

An investigation into Savita's death by Ireland’s national health service determined that the confusion over the country’s abortion law was a contributing factor in her death. Her death was due to "medical misadventure," the inquest said in its verdict.

Dr Peter Boylan, the former master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, had told the inquest that Savita would probably still be alive today if she had got a termination in the first three days of her stay in the hospital, prior to developing a real or substantive risk to her life. However, he added that under the Irish law, that would have been illegal.

The inquest also found that there were also communication failures, between medical and nursing staff, that the evidence showed that her blood test results were not followed up and pulse rates not taken.

The revelation of the circumstances of Savita's death had led to widespread outrage. Thousands joined protests and candle-light vigils that were held across Ireland, demanding fundamental amendments in the abortion law.

The Irish police in Dublin had recorded 12,000 people marching from Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to the Irish parliament in November 2012 – the largest such demonstration.

The 'Yes Campaign' for easing restrictions on abortion in Savita's name grew louder over the years, and in 2018, a referendum was held to repeal the Eighth Amendment that effectively barred women from having abortions under most circumstances.

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“I hope the people of Ireland remember my daughter Savita on the day of the referendum, and that what happened to her won’t happen to any other family,” her father, Andanappa Yalagi, who had been among those appealing for the striking down of the archaic law, had told The Guardian from his home in Karnataka on the day of the vote.

Nearly 66 percent voted in favour of repealing the law on 25 May 2018, with the death of Savita at the heart of the decision. Campaigners had demanded that the landmark legislation be called "Savita's Law."

Now, abortion is allowed on request up to 12 weeks, and later where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, and in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

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'She Would Be Proud Of Her Legacy': Friends Recall Savita on 10th Death Anniversary

Mrudula Vasepalli, a fellow dentist, remembered Savita as a "special person who spread much love through compassion, dance and her warm smile."

"Never in a million years did we think she would die," the friend of Savita's told Irish news website Independent.ie on her tenth death anniversary.

Vasepalli had visited Savita at the hospital on 23 October, five days before the latter's death.

However, Savita would have been proud of her legacy and the change she created for the women of Ireland, say her friends.

"She was never a person for herself. She was always about others, and that’s exactly what she did when she left us," Shilpa Rose Renjith, who lives in Galway, told The Sunday Times Ireland.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Abortion Rights 

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