Ireland: First abortion under new legislation

The law was changed after Savita Halappanavar's death. Picture: PA
The law was changed after Savita Halappanavar's death. Picture: PA
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The first abortion carried out in Ireland under the country’s new legislation has taken place in Dublin.

It was the first legal termination since the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed last month.

The procedure was carried out at the National Maternity Hospital on a woman who had an unviable 18-week twin pregnancy and whose life was viewed to be at risk.

It is one of 25 hospitals in Ireland that has been authorised to carry out terminations under the provisions of the act.

The case bears a number of similarities to that of Savita Halappanavar, the Indian dentist who died in Galway’s University Hospital last year after being denied an emergency abortion.

In both cases, the woman’s membranes had ruptured and she was demonstrating signs of potentially fatal sepsis.

In contrast to Ms Halappanavar, the woman who was treated at the National Maternity Hospital has made a good recovery after receiving antibiotic treatment and undergoing the termination.

It was performed under section 7 of the abortion legislation, which deals with the risk of loss of life of a woman from physical illness.

The law’s controversial suicide provision and another clause covering medical emergencies were not invoked.

Under the legislation, before the procedure was carried out, the woman’s obstetrician and another medical practitioner must have certified there was a real and substantial risk to her life, which could only be averted by carrying out a termination.

A senior hospital source told the Irish Times: “Even before the passage of the legislation, the hospital would have carried out terminations in cases like this, where the prognosis for the pregnancy was very poor.

“What’s changed is that we can do our work in the best interests of patients without fear of a possible Medical Council case.”

Estimates vary as to the number of terminations carried out in Irish hospitals each year to save the life of the mother.

During the debate on the abortion legislation, Dr Rhona Mahony estimated that up to 20 terminations were performed at the National Maternity Hospital every year.

Under the provisions of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, there are reporting mechanisms in place so that, at the end of each year, figures on the number of abortions will be made available.

According to the Irish department of health, some 4,000 Irish women travelled to British hospitals and clinics to terminate their pregnancies last year. These figures included 124 who were under 18.