GALWAY, April 18, 2013 ( – The only expert medical witness called by the Savita Halappanavar inquest who was not directly involved in her treatment is an obstetrician who has called for legalization of abortion and blames Ireland’s pro-life laws for her death.

Dr. Peter Boylan was on the government-appointed “expert group” that recommended abortion legalization. In 2002, Boylan, an obstetrician and gynecologist, signed a public statement that opposed outlawing abortion on the grounds of a threat of suicide.

Boylan, clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital, said if Mrs. Halappanavar had been given a termination shortly after being admitted to hospital, on October 21st, she would, “on the balance of probabilities,” still be alive.

Although her attending obstetrician and other experts involved in her case have said that “termination” was not medically warranted, Boylan claimed that the decision was made based on the nature of the law, not on her medical requirements. Dr. Astbury said that the request for abortion was motivated not by medical necessity but by Mrs. Halappanavar’s state of “emotional distress”.

“In this jurisdiction termination of pregnancy is only legal when there is a real and substantial risk to the life as opposed to the health of the mother,” he said. “There are no guidelines as to how that risk may be quantified.”

Against this assertion is the testimony of Dr. Katherine Astbury, the attending physician, who said that once the diagnosis of sepsis was clear, she ordered early inducement of labor, but by this time, the baby had already died of natural causes.


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Pro-life campaigners have asked the coroner, Dr. Ciarán MacLoughlin, why Boylan — who has a publicly stated position in favor of abortion — was the only expert obstetric witnesses called to the inquest to give his opinion on Irish law. They have said it is crucial that Dr. MacLoughlin hears from other obstetricians who were neutral in relation to the law on abortion.

“The evidence shows that systems failure in Galway University Hospital caused indications of infection to be missed, and that led to sepsis and to Savita's tragic death,” Niamh Uí Bhriain, head of the Life Institute, said. “While Dr. Boylan is a medical expert, he doesn't have a crystal ball and cannot say with certainty what any clinical outcome would have been.”

Despite his being the only witness to make this assertion, the Irish Times is already saying that his testimony will “likely” increase pressure to legalize abortion. This despite the testimony given so far by every physician involved in Mrs. Halappanavar’s care who have said that the issue had nothing to do with “termination” but the timely diagnosis and proper treatment of sepsis.

Today, this opinion was reiterated by pathologist Dr. Peter Kelehan who told the inquest that he had seen fewer than 5 cases of “septic abortion” in 40 years, but that no patients had died.

“Dr. Boylan says that Irish law prevents doctors from acting,” Uí Bhriain said, “but that is not backed up by the evidence from clinical outcomes.”

“There are some 14,000 miscarriages in Ireland each year. Infection is a risk in many of those, and we have no maternal deaths on record because obstetricians felt that the law on abortion prohibits them from intervening,” he said.

Fifteen top obstetricians have written to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children saying that the current legal situation ensures they are free to intervene to save a mother’s life, including with early inducement of labor.


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