Some doctors have highlighted the 2012 death in Ireland of a pregnant woman and warned that similar events could occur in America after the Supreme Court's landmark decision to overturn Roe V. Wade.
Dr. Savita Halappanavar was a 31-year old Indian-born dentist who died in Galway, Ireland, in 2012. She died after doctors denied her an abortion citing the country's strict laws. Despite the fact that there was no chance of her baby surviving, Ireland's official report said she had died.
Her death shaken the foundations of the historically conservative, predominantly Roman Catholic country and catalyzed the pro-abortion rights movement. The 2018 referendum in Ireland saw a two-thirds vote to legalize the procedure.
According to Dr. Sabaratnam Aulkumaran (the expert who wrote the 2013 official report about the case), the avoidable death Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant.
"That's why Biden stated that the issue should not be between the patient or the doctor, but with the law," he said to NBC News by telephone, referring to President Joe Biden’s speech reacting June 24 to Roe v. Wade's reversal.
Halappanavar's case was different. Doctors opted against abortion because Halappanavar had a heartbeat and any doctor who performed a termination could theoretically be prosecuted later.
"Because the fetal pulse rate was always present, the obstetrician didn't perform a termination. He said that if someone believed she had done it illegally she would have been sent to jail." He was referring to Halappanavar, the doctor who attended to Halappanavar.
Arulkumaran is a professor emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. George's University of London. He added that the lives of mothers are at risk in the United States.
He said that he believes maternal mortality will rise. "I believe those most affected will be those from lower socioeconomic levels, adolescents, and those who don’t have the facilities to terminate their pregnancy."
On Oct. 21, 2012, Halappanavar was afflicted by back pain. She was referred to Galway University Hospital. After feeling back pain, Halappanavar was sent home and returned hours later. According to the official report, a midwife confirmed that no fetal parts were visible. According to the official report, she later described the pain as "unbearable" that day.
On Oct. 23, she was admitted to hospital. A doctor informed her that a miscarriage was inevitable due to rupture of membranes protecting the fetus. This was despite the fact her baby was normal in size and was still registering a heartbeat. According to the official report, the medical team decided to monitor the fetal hearts in the event that an accelerated delivery was possible. This would have likely meant that Halappanavar had a medically induced miscarriage.
Praveen and Halappanavar asked Praveen about medically inducing a miscarriage.
According to the report, pregnant women who have had their waters broken are at high risk for infection. In some cases, this can lead to death.
At 1:09 AM on Oct. 28, Halappanavar, who had contracted an infection and been in septic shock was declared dead.
Arulkumaran stated in an interview that "it was a life-threatening situation but they decided to not do anything because of the legal structure."
Praveen Halappanavar didn't respond when asked for comment. He told The Guardian newspaper that the inquest into his wife’s death in 2013 "vindicated" him version of events. According to him, a doctor had told him that an abortion could not be performed in this country because it was a Catholic one.
The University Hospital Galway released the report and apologized to Halappanavar's loved ones. They said that it was "clear" that there had been "failures in the standard of care."
It added, "We can assure all concerned that we have already implemented modifications to prevent such an event from happening again."
Some states in America have passed "trigger laws" that ban abortion. Others offer exceptions, such as in the cases of rape and incest. Experts aren't sure how easy it will prove to obtain such an exception. They also said that asking doctors to interpret complicated legislation during a medical emergency could lead to dangerous decisions.
Irish law allowed abortion in 2012 to protect a mother's life from a "potentially major hazard" but the Halappanavar report stated that a doctor had decided that abortion was not permitted under Irish law.
This is not a hypothetical scenario in the U.S. according to Dr. Jen Gunter an OB-GYN based California and author of "The Vagina Bible".
"I have personally been in a situation in which due to the state laws, abortion was illegal in our medical center and that we had a patients who needed one," she stated in an interview. She declined to discuss further details except for the fact it was in Kansas where abortion is legal up until 22 weeks with some restrictions.
She said, "It wasn’t a pregnancy complication. Her organs were failing due to the extra burden of pregnancy because of her underlying condition."
Gunter was told by Kansas's medical center that she could not perform an abortion unless the woman was "imminently in danger."
She said, "I was like, "What does that mean?" And they explained that she was going be dead in three minutes." Gunter stated that the hospital lawyers set up a phone call with the legislator involved in the legislation. She was told by the doctor to do what she thinks is best.
She said, "So I thought: 'Then why are we having this law?'"
She said that an ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized embryo implants and grows outside of the uterus, can pose a danger to the mother's life and could lead to additional confusion and unaffordable delays in treatment.
Gunter's prediction of what tighter abortion laws in the U.S. could look like is not without a lot of heart.
She stated that women could still die from septic abortions if they had better antibiotics.
"Halappanavar? This won't change anything in the States if that happens here.
Ivana Bacik (leader of the Irish Labour Party) led a protest outside the American Embassy in Dublin against Monday's Supreme Court decision "in solidarity with American women and girls."
"Our experience is that criminalizing and banning abortion puts women's lives at risk," she said. She stated that it was clear that this is the shocking reality for American women.
You endanger the lives of women and girls by removing their right to choose. There will be serious health and life-threatening conditions during pregnancy.
Bacik stated that Halappanavar’s story helped to turn public opinion towards a "yes” vote in 2018. The same was true for a brain-dead Irish woman who was 18 weeks pregnant and her life support system was turned off after she was declared medically dead in 2014.
A group of 20 women's rights charities and heath care organizations commissioned polling in March to show that 67% of islanders supported abortion free of charge. This is similar to the 2018 vote.
But, abortion rights opponents in Ireland are still fighting. A Right to Life rally will be held in Dublin on Saturday. There organizers ask for sympathizers to "be a voice for the 6,500 abortion-related deaths each year."
Carol Nolan is an independent lawmaker who represents the constituency Laois-Offaly, in the Irish midlands. She opposed the 2018 law change and claims that Halappanavar’s death was "deliberately" and "constantly" misrepresented by women’s rights activists.
She stated via email that "the factors that overwhelmingly contributed towards Savita's passing were then, medical negligence, and the mismanagement maternal sepsis," and that the Eighth Amendment law before 2018 was not a barrier for Halappanavar receiving effective and proportionate care.
Nolan stated that "Following removal of the constitutional amend, we have witnessed an explosion in abortions and the application relentless political and nongovernmental pressuring to further broaden the parameters of law post-2018."
According to the most recent figures from the government, there were 32 abortions in Ireland in 2018, and more than 6,000 the next two years.
Nolan said, "This was completely predictable." "But, it has only served as a vindication of my own view that Eighth Amendment acted in a beacon for proportionality and sound legislation grounded in an authentic vision about human rights."
The debate has also centered on the sometimes fatal intersection of medicine and law.
Bacik, the Dublin lawmaker cited Andrea Prudente's case. She was an American woman who refused to have an abortion because of heavy bleeding in Malta on June 12. The woman was flown to Spain for treatment, and her fetus was removed.
Numerous cases of women who were denied abortions in Poland have been reported. The country has a strict ban on abortions. According to her family, last year, Izabela, a 30-year old woman, died from septic shock after she was 22 weeks pregnant. Reuters reported that scans had revealed multiple problems with her fetus, but doctors refused the decision to end her pregnancy while there was a fetal beat.
Doctors could legally perform an operation after the death of the fetus. Izabela's heart stopped as she was rushed to the operating room to have a Cesarean section.