DUBLIN, October 15, 2013 ( – The Irish government’s inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar has found a total of 13 points where the hospital protocol failed to save the life of the young Indian dentist, none of which included the country’s then-law prohibiting abortion. The incident became the political engine driving forward the passage of the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy” Act, which for the first time allows direct abortion in Ireland.

Last week, the final report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) repeated the initial findings, saying that the cause of Mrs. Halappanavar’s death was “failure in basic care.” The report said that her life might have been saved if “missed opportunities” had been acted upon: crucially, the timely administration of the correct antibiotic regimen.

Nuala Lucas, a consultant obstetric anaesthetist who led the investigation team, said there “were a series of signs that could have been recognised as indications of Mrs. Halappanavar’s deterioration or as signs of the development of sepsis.”


Savita Halappanavar died on October 28th, 2012 in Galway University Hospital. Her cause of death was documented as being as a result of septicaemia, blood poisoning caused by a bacteria. Later investigation revealed that the infection was by a “super-bug” that required specialised antibiotic treatment.

The media-promoted uproar over the young woman’s death came at a crucial moment in the government’s deliberations over the law. Abortion advocates both within and outside the Dail latched onto the claim, initially made by her husband to an Irish Times reporter, that the country’s pro-life law was the cause of her death. This claim, however, was later refuted by the findings of the inquiry.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute called it “significant” that the report does not anywhere blame Ireland’s then-existing ban on abortion. She called for a separate inquiry into the role played by the media in creating the “hysteria, which used the tragedy to attack Ireland’s pro-life laws and took attention away from the real issue of sepsis, potentially putting women’s lives in danger.”

Uí Bhriain said, “The report made it very clear that the management of sepsis in pregnancy was always the issue here – and not abortion.”

Uí Bhriain said the report has revealed the “shameful rush” by the media and some politicians “to exploit the tragedy to push for abortion.” Three weeks after Mrs. Halappanavar’s death, the Irish Times ran the front-page headline, “Woman ‘denied termination’ dies in hospital,” with the article blaming Ireland’s “Catholic ethos.”

“The Irish Times led the world to believe that this was about abortion: when we now know it was about a failure to provide basic care,” she said.

The media uproar was answered by the strongly pro-abortion Labour Party, saying the government would “speedily” legalise abortion.

The report points to a total of 13 of these “missed opportunities,” that “could have resulted in a different outcome” for Mrs. Halappanavar. Staff failed to recognise the signs of a potentially fatal infection which finally led to septic shock and death.
Blood test results were not followed up, and a series of signs indicating the patient’s deterioration were not recognised or acted on, the report said.

The hospital did not follow its own guidelines on early warning alerts of deterioration in a patient with a severe infection. Following the rupture of the foetal membranes, Mrs. Halappanavar should have been observed every four hours, and her temperature, heart rate, breathing and blood pressure checked, none of which were done.