GALWAY, April 16, 2013 ( – On Friday, a consultant microbiologist with the National Maternity Hospital told the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar that premature delivery of Savita’s 17-week-old baby was “not warranted” medically at the time it was requested by the patient.

Dr. Susan Knowles said, however, that early induction of labor, which under Irish law is not regarded as an abortion, would have been necessary after the diagnosis of sepsis was confirmed.

Dr. Knowles said that the medical team at Galway University Hospital should have been aware earlier that the patient’s condition was deteriorating, and that sepsis should have been diagnosed earlier. She also said that after diagnosis, it should have become clear that the antibiotic regimen chosen was ineffective, and that other antibiotics should have been tried.


Mrs. Halappanavar had requested that her pregnancy be terminated on Tuesday, October 23, before any signs of sepsis had manifested. Her obstetrician said that the request had been motivated by “emotional distress,” and that as such it was not medically indicated and initially refused. 

After the symptoms of sepsis had appeared, her attending physician, Dr. Katherine Astbury, said she was prepared to authorize a “termination,” but before the order could be carried out the baby had already died. 

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Dr. Knowles said the patient’s chart included no note of a plan to deliver the baby. She said that induction should have been authorized when a diagnosis of chorioamnionitis, an infection of the membrane, had been made, on October 24th. A second opinion should have been sought earlier regarding induction of labour, she added. 

“Delivery will naturally happen but if you suspect chorioamnionitis you may have to expedite that,” she said. 

The inquest is learning that the problems that eventually killed the 31-year–old Indian dentist, had to do with delays in testing procedures, missed symptoms of infection as well as failures of communication between staff. 

A nurse testified that when Mrs. Halappanavar had complained of cold, a broken radiator in her room was blamed, not infection. Another doctor, Ikechkwu Uzockwu, told the inquest that he was never informed about Mrs. Halappanavar’s elevated temperature, though the midwife, Ann Maria Burke, said in her written testimony that she had informed him. A junior doctor appears not to have verbally passed along to senior consultants information about symptoms of infection, only making a note on the chart. 

The case made international headlines when abortion lobbyists claimed that Mrs. Halappanavar had died because she had been “refused an abortion”. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, claimed that she had made three requests for abortion and that Dr. Astbury had refused on the grounds that “Ireland is a Catholic country,” a claim that Dr. Astbury denied at the inquest. 

It emerged at the inquest that the Catholic comment was made by the midwife, Anna Maria Burke, who later apologized but said that the remark had nothing to do with the provision of care. 

Advocates of legalization have followed the case with a public campaign claiming that Ireland’s pro-life laws put women’s lives in danger.

But Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute has said that such claims are absurd in the face of evidence from the World Health Organisation that Ireland has one of the best ratings for maternal health in the world. 


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