UK & World News

  • 10 April 2013, 22:00

Savita Abortion Death: Midwife Says 'Sorry'

A midwife has apologised for telling a woman who was suffering a miscarriage that she could not have an abortion in Ireland because it was a "Catholic thing".

Ann Maria Burke admitted she made the remark to dentist Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway just days before she died after giving birth.

The senior midwife said she had been trying to explain the law of the land after the 31-year-old, who was originally from India, said she was a Hindu and she would have ended her pregnancy in her home country.

"I did mention it's a Catholic country," Ms Burke told Galway coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin.

"I didn't mention it in a hurtful context. It was in a conversation we had."

She added: "I'm sorry that I said it."

Mrs Halappanavar, who had been practising as a dentist in the Republic of Ireland for some time, was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital in pain on October 21 last year.

She delivered a dead baby daughter three days later and was rushed to intensive care within hours of the delivery, where she remained in a critical condition.

On October 28 she died of a heart attack caused by septicaemia - an infection in the blood - due to E.coli bacteria.

The case reignited debates on abortion in Ireland, with her death sparking rallies and protests calling for a change in the law.

The inquest, in its third day, has heard claims that Dr Katherine Astbury, a consultant obstetrician, also made the "Catholic" remark to Mrs Halappanavar and her husband Praveen.

Dr Astbury denied using the phrase, but she admitted there were system failures in her care and also warned of a lack of legal clarity for doctors treating pregnant women who suffer health risks.

She insisted that when she told the dentist she could not abort the baby, she told her: "In this country it is not legal to terminate a pregnancy on grounds of poor prognosis of the foetus."

The senior medic said she could not induce delivery when asked as there was not a risk to Mrs Halappanavar's life and she was restricted by Ireland's abortion law.

"If you need to give somebody medication to deliver and there's a foetal heartbeat, my understanding is that legally you are considered to be terminating," she told the hearing.

She also referred to the Irish Medical Council guidelines on abortion which refer to terminating a pregnancy if there is an immediate threat to the mother's life.

The senior medic said her understanding was that they relate to conditions such as cancer, or a woman having radiotherapy, cervical care or a hysterectomy.

"My understanding is that this is a case where a woman is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, usually unrelated to the pregnancy," she said.

Asked by the coroner if there was confusion over the interpretation of the guidelines, she replied: "There's no law to tell you what you what is permitted or not permitted."

Dr Astbury also revealed she had been unaware of blood test abnormalities as they had not been passed on to her team from the weekend staff on-call.

She also confirmed the patient's vital signs were not checked every four hours after her foetal membrane ruptured, which was a breach of hospital policy.

The doctor also revealed that on the day the patient finally miscarried she did not know a junior colleague had put on her chart that he suspected Mrs Halappanavar was suffering from sepsis caused by chorioamnionitis - an infection of the foetal membrane.

The inquest continues.

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