For Release: Woman Dies in UCHG after Being Denied a Life-Saving Abortion
On Sunday the 28th of October, Savita Praveen died at UCHG after being denied a termination which would most likely have saved her life. She was 31 years old, married for four years and hoping to start a family.
If legislation is not introduced immediately, more women will die. Under the X Case ruling, women in Ireland are legally entitled to an abortion when it is necessary to save their life. However, legislation has never been passed to reflect this. It is the failure of successive governments to do so that led to Savita’s death.
Savita was first admitted to the hospital on October 21st complaining of severe back pain. Her doctor initially told her that she would be fine, but she refused to go home. It became clear that her waters had broken, and she was having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). She was told that the foetus had no chance of survival, and it would all be over within a few hours.
However, her condition did not take its expected course, and the foetus remained inside her body. Although it was evident that it could not survive, a foetal heartbeat was detected. For this reason her repeated requests to remove the foetus were denied. By Tuesday it was clear that her condition was deteriorating. She had developed a fever, and collapsed when attempting to walk. The cervix had now been fully open for nearly 72 hours, creating a danger of infection comparable to an untreated open head wound. She developed septicaemia.
Despite this, the foetus was not removed until Wednesday afternoon, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped. Immediately after the procedure she was taken to the high dependency unit. Her condition never improved. She died at 1.09am on Sunday the 28th of October.
Had the foetus been removed when it became clear that it could not survive, her cervix would have been closed and her chance of infection dramatically reduced. Leaving a woman’s cervix open constitutes a clear risk to her life. What is unclear is how doctors are expected to act in this situation.
Rachel Donnelly, Galway Pro-Choice spokesperson stated:
“This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner. Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences. As the European Court of Human Rights ruled, as long as the 1861 Act remains in place, alongside a complete political unwillingness to touch the issue, pregnant women will continue to be unsafe in this country.”
Sarah McCarthy, Galway Pro-Choice member said:
“Galway Pro-Choice believes that Ireland must legislate for freely available abortion for all women. Deaths like Savita’s are the most severe consequence of the criminalisation of abortion, yet it has countless adverse effects. We must reflect long and hard on the implications of Savita’s tragic and untimely passing, and we must act to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.”
For more information please contact Galway Pro-Choice on 087 706 0715 or Sarah McCarthy on 085 7477 907
Greer launches symphysiotomy book
A pelvic operation carried out during childbirth which left women with lifelong problems breached their constitutional rights and was unlawful, according to a new book on the subject launched this morning.
Bodily Harm: Symphysiotomy and Pubiotomy in Ireland 1944-92 by Marie O’Connor, found the operation, which involved the use of a wire saw to widen the pelvis, was generally performed without the consent of women and “amounted to battery in law”.
The book claims the procedure was “resurrected from the graveyard of obstetric surgery” by the National Maternity Hospital, that it was “experimental” and women were used as teaching aids for practitioners who would be working in overseas hospitals.
Ms O’Connor said evidence debunked the myth that the procedure was standard surgery for difficult births and that it was gradually replaced by caesarean section.
“Symphysiotomy was never a norm for difficult births, ever, in any country because it was seen by doctors as too dangerous,” Ms O’Connor said.
It was carried out because the alternative, a caesarean section was seen as limiting the number of children a woman could have, she said.
The book was launched this morning by the feminist academic Germaine Greer.
Ms Greer said while she believed there was “a place” for the procedure when performed properly and in particular circumstances, it appeared not to have been carried out correctly in Ireland.
“For some reason the childbed is a battlefield and it is a battlefield in which women take punishment and what you can’t understand is why exactly,” she said.
She said women lost control of childbirth in the 17th century to the man midwife “who came racing in even then with his swords and his forceps and with his goal-oriented thing of lets get this over quickly, lets not mess around”.
We had all seen the progressive medicalisation of pregnancy and childbirth, she said.
“We are very prone to believe that we can’t carry out the procedure, we can’t manage the process ourselves. We believe it when we are told that we need sometimes quite destructive interventions,” she said.
“Throwing your weight around, even at your most powerful as a mother-to-be is something that comes hard to women.”
She told members of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy who were present at the launch that she did not think they would get “any joy” out of any of the “medical colleges”.
“One of the things they will do is discredit all the women’s evidence,” she said.
“We will never find out why they did what they did because they don’t actually know, because they were in fact behaving irrationally under the pretext of being super rational.”
There was a lady who lived near me growing up who had this done.
She wasn’t married at the time she gave birth, she was engaged but that meant nothing and after she was a mess after the operation and could not recover her husband to be and father of her child called off the marriage, for what use would she be when she couldn’t walk with out crutches.
She spent her life on crutches and in considerable pain but brought up her daughter to be a wonderful person. Unfortunately she died in a car crash some years ago and so is one of the many who will never have justice for what was done to her.
It is on the real player on the rte.ie site this morning.
I knew about this, I knew about this long before Dr Neary’s scandal broke.
Growing up there was one of the local mammy’s who was on crutches all the time and this operation was the reason why. She had been an unmarried mother giving birth at the start of the 70s and this procedure was done to her. She lived her life in agony due to it being ‘done for her own good’.
The abuse of women when they are their most vulnerable was rife, esp those who were ‘fallen women’ with out a husband to ‘protect’ them.
Symphysiotomy is a discredited childbirth operation severing the pelvis that persisted in Ireland until as recently as the 1980s. Hundreds of Irish women, who were unknowingly subjected to the surgery, say they were left with severe and life-long side-effects, including walking disabilities, chronic pain, incontinence and depression.
Their doctors chose to perform symphysiotomy instead of Caesarean section, a safer alternative. They saw Caesareans as leading women into temptation, the ‘temptation’ to practice birth control.
Yes, they sawed open the joint of the pubic bone under local anesthetic and ruin women’s lives.
Symphysiotomy survivors demand inquiry
[Posted: Tue 24/06/2003]
By Deborah Condon
Irish women who unknowingly underwent symphysiotomies, an operation performed during childbirth between the 1950s and 1980s, are demanding a public inquiry into the practise, which they say, has left them with severe side effects, including extreme pain, incontinence and depression.
A symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure which is carried out to permanently widen the pelvis of a woman who might normally require repeat Caesarean sections. The cartilage of the symphysis pubis, which is the point where the pubic bones come together, is surgically divided during the procedure.
According to support group, Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS), Irish obstetricians sought to establish this operation as an alternative to Caesarean sections because it was thought that women subjected to repeated Caesareans ‘might be tempted to use contraception’.
SOS is now demanding answers as to why women were subjected to this procedure without their consent and in many cases, without their knowledge.
Rose, now aged 57, was 17 and pregnant with her first child when she went into labour on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, a doctor told her that her baby would soon be delivered. She was given what she later learned was a local anaesthetic and was then unknowingly subjected to a symphysiotomy.
“The pain was excruciating. My arms were pinned down by nurses and my legs were held up, like the way you would hold a turkey”, she explained.
After the procedure, when Rose had woken up, she was obviously eager to see her baby, who was in a nursery next door to her ward. However when she tried to stand up, she fainted with the pain and was told not to attempt to get up again. Rose ended up crawling on her hands and knees that night in a desperate attempt to see her baby, before a doctor found her and told a nurse to get a wheelchair for her.
A couple of days later, two nurses came to ‘teach me how to walk again’. She was let out of hospital 10 days after the birth, while her baby remained there for a month. Rose, whose partner died nine years ago, did go on to have more children. However her life has been marked by chronic pain and anger at what has happened to her.
“I have spent 40 years locked up for having a baby. I kept having to give up jobs because of the pain. I have never been on a holiday and I never go out. I have to wear sanitary towels all the time because of bladder problems. I have been to a psychiatrist and I am eventually going to be left on my own in a wheelchair”, she said.
Another survivor, Claire who was 29 and pregnant with her fifth child, was initially told she needed a Caesarean section, but was later told this was not necessary. Referring to what happened in the delivery room, she said she felt as though a ‘red, hot poker’ had been passed through her, the pain was so excruciating. She passed out and when she awoke, she was told that there had been complications, her pelvis had been broken and she would be in bed for five days. She was also told she would have to learn how to walk again.
“I was never followed up. I was never told that I would not be able to hold or nurse my baby. That child was raised in a pram because I couldn’t hold him, the pain was so bad. I couldn’t even play with him. It is 31 years later and I want answers”, she said.
SOS has requested a meeting with Health Minister, Micheal Martin, to discuss the situation. However to date, Mr Martin has failed to agree to meet with the organisation. SOS believes a public inquiry is necessary in order to determine:
-Why symphysiotomies were carried out when alternatives were available.
-Why the procedure was carried out here so often, compared to other European countries.
-Why no-one has been held accountable for the suffering of the women involved.
-Why this procedure was carried out without these women’s consent.
Apart from the inquiry, SOS would also like to see the establishment of a counselling service and helpline. It also believes that those affected should be provided with home help and home modifications where necessary.
“There are a lot of women in wheelchairs and housebound because of this. Who is going to look after them?”, the organisation added.
Knowing about this and some of the other abuses of women’s reproductive rights in this country is why I am such a contraceptive and women’s health information advocate.
Martin promises Symphysiotomy review
Wednesday, 1 October 2003 18:32
The Minister for Health, Micheál Martin, has promised that his department will carry out an independent review of the procedure of Symphysiotomy in Irish hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s.
He has also promised counselling and free health services for the victims.
This follows a meeting with representatives of over 200 women who are suffering serious health problems from the procedure.
The review still has not happened…