Women's rights and health activists are outraged after reports that a pregnant woman in Ireland died after she was denied an abortion that might have saved her life. Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she showed up at a hospital in Galway last month, complaining of back pain. Doctors quickly determined that she was having a miscarriage and chose to let it run its course. After spending a full day in "severe pain" and understanding that the baby could not be saved, Halappanavar asked for the pregnancy to be terminated. The hospital refused, reportedly telling the couple that "this is a Catholic country" and there was nothing it could do as long a heartbeat could be detected.
It was another two and half days before the heartbeat stopped and the fetus was removed, but by then the damage had been done. Halappanavar had developed septicemia and E. coli infections. She spent another four days in intensive care and died a week after entering the hospital.
Abortion is completely illegal in Ireland, but can technically be allowed if "there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother." In other words, it's not enough for the mother to be in pain or at risk of complications. They have to reasonably believe that she will die without it. Now an investigation is underway as to whether the hospital acted properly and Halappanavar's family is considering legal action. She and her husband are Hindus from India, but both lived and worked in Ireland.