On 4th anniversary of Savita's death - a timely reminder that access to abortion care is vital for women

safe abortion sign

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the senseless death of Savita Halappanavar, who died at Galway University Clinic in Ireland after she was denied a life-saving abortion during her miscarriage.

Although she begged doctors to terminate her pregnancy, the hospital refused, citing Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, under which doctors can be prevented from making clinical decisions in the best interests of pregnant women’s health. Savita died of septicaemia a week after she was admitted to hospital at just 31-years of age.

The flagrant disregard for Savita’s life and health is indicative of a society where rights of pregnant women are violated on a daily basis.

Tragically, just 12 days before the anniversary of Savita’s death, a similar case was reported, this time in Italy.

Valentina Milluzzo was 19 weeks pregnant with twins when she was hospitalised in Sicily after one of the foetuses became distressed. She was told that the doctor, a conscientious objector, would not operate while there was a foetal heartbeat. Valentina miscarried both foetuses before she died of septicaemia on October 16, 2016. She was 32-years old.

What is especially outrageous about this case is that abortion is legal in Italy, yet health care providers continually side-step the law by invoking the “conscience clause”, even though objecting doctors are not legally permitted to deny care when the life of a pregnant woman is in danger, under any circumstances.

Restrictions on access to abortion, wherever they exist, do not reduce the need for abortion. Women either suffer harm to their health or where possible they seek services outside of their own healthcare system. This is costly, delays access and creates social inequities – and it is likely to increase the number of women seeking illegal and unsafe abortions.

Since 1980, at least 167,000 women and girls have travelled from Ireland to access abortion services in another country; with around 10 women travelling each day from Ireland to the UK.

Irish abortion laws are so extreme that if a woman is pregnant with a foetus that is unlikely to survive birth, she must still carry that pregnancy to term or travel to another State for a termination. In June of this year, the U.N. Human Rights Committee called for reform of Irish abortion laws after it found that a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality was subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment due to Ireland’s abortion laws.

The lessons from Italy and Ireland must be that access to abortion care is vital for women.