Thursday 22 March 2018

Savita case: Doctor told her abortion was against Irish law

Greg Harkin

A SENIOR doctor has admitted telling Savita Halappanavar that she could not terminate her pregnancy because it was against Irish law – but has denied there was a risk to her life at the time.

Dr Katherine Astbury was named as the doctor who told Savita a termination could not be carried out because Ireland was a Catholic country, as the inquest into the young dentist's death got under way.

But a HSE lawyer said the consultant obstetrician will "categorically deny" ever making any reference to Ireland "being a Catholic country".

And the barrister added that Dr Astbury will also tell the inquest that there was no risk to the life or health of 31-year-old Savita at the time the termination request was refused.

A dispute over the separate versions of events arose as Savita's husband Praveen was being cross-examined during an emotional inquest before a jury of six men and four women.

At one stage the case had to be adjourned as Praveen, who chose to read his own statement to the hearing, broke down in tears.

Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when admitted to University Hospital Galway on October 21 last year. She died a week later from suspected septicaemia, days after she lost her baby.

Praveen disputed the sequence of events surrounding the termination requests – alleging that two requests for a termination were made on Monday October 22, a day after Savita was admitted to the hospital.

Another request was made the next day at 10.30am, he alleged.

The inquest heard how at one point Savita pleaded: "How can a mother wait for her baby to die?"

The young dentist, who only weeks before had wept tears of joy at a first scan that confirmed they were starting a family, could not bear it any more.

"She basically said she can't take it," Praveen said.

Praveen said he and his wife were in "terrible mental pain and shock" after being told the unborn baby would not survive.

They had taken a decision to tell close friends about the loss of their baby, but not Savita's parents, who were in Galway and were planning to return to India that week.

"She wanted a termination, she wanted it before her parents arrived back in India and started telling people she was pregnant," said Praveen.

However, counsel for the HSE, Declan Buckley, told the sitting at Galway courthouse that Dr Astbury would deny there were any conversations in relation to a termination on the Monday.

She will also say in her evidence that a termination request was made by Savita on Tuesday at 8.20am but that Praveen couldn't have been there as he had been bringing Savita's parents to Dublin Airport at the time.

The 32-year-old widower admitted in evidence that he could have been confused.

"There was no risk to the health or life of your wife and no reason to consider performing an operation that (Tuesday) morning," Mr Buckley told Praveen.

Praveen alleged that Savita had been told that a termination was ruled out because "this is a Catholic country".

But Mr Buckley said that Dr Astbury and other medical staff would refute "ever saying that".

Mr Buckley also told Coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin that an Indian medic, who Praveen said was in the hospital that Tuesday, will tell the inquest that he wasn't there that day.

Praveen said a family friend had witnessed the conversation with Dr Astbury.

Mr Buckley, however, insisted that "this just could not have happened. She would never discuss that issue in front of anyone, never mind in front of a stranger".

Reading from the consultant's statement, Mr Buckley said she would say: "The pregnancy could continue for several weeks. I recall informing her (Savita) the legal position in Ireland did not permit me to terminate her pregnancy at that time."

Praveen said he may be "confused" on some of the timings and when statements were made.

Earlier, Praveen told the inquest about how he and Savita had been sent home from hospital on Sunday, October 21, but returned a couple of hours later as Savita was in severe pain. He was later told that the baby was miscarrying. "Savita was crying loudly," he said.

He said a doctor told him: "You have to be brave."

He said Savita asked him: "Why did this happen to me?"

He added: "She held my hand and said, 'Sorry, I want to be a good wife'."

Praveen added: "Savita asked for a termination two times. She asked a doctor when she could plan the next pregnancy. She was told she had to get well first."

The hearing continues today.

Irish Independent

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