Paul Lachine

A Death in Galway

The case of Savita Halappanavar, who died after Irish doctors refused to terminate her life-threatening pregnancy, reverses Western stereotypes regarding Eastern societies. Halappanavar’s death resulted from the atavism of a Western theocracy, while protesters in her native India have upheld the Enlightenment's rationalist ethos.

NEW YORK – The case of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist from India who had moved, with her husband, to Ireland, continues to reverberate around the world. Halappanavar, an expectant mother, died after her doctors, citing Ireland’s legal prohibition of abortion, refused to remove her 17-week-old fetus, despite allegedly acknowledging that the fetus was not viable and placing Halappanavar in an intensive-care unit as her condition deteriorated.

Indian activists are outraged. “While there is no single law specific to men that states when, where, or how medical care should be provided, governments enact laws that prescribe, confuse, and curtail a woman’s access to safe abortion services,” Anjali Sen, the South Asia director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, pointed out. “Right and necessary care could have saved her life. It is inexcusable that doctors, instead of undertaking efforts to save her, watched her die.”

Halappanavar suffered extreme pain on October 21. She was miscarrying, and, according to her husband, repeatedly asked for a termination after being told that the fetus would not survive. But Halappanavar and her husband were then informed that Ireland is a Catholic country; the fetus still had a heartbeat, so the procedure was out of the question. Halappanavar died from septicemia, which her family is certain would not have developed if the termination had been carried out.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.