The Portuguese Minister of Health, Dr Marta Temido, resigned from her post on Tuesday August 30 after Indian tourist died while being transferred between hospitals in the capital of Lisbon. The woman was about seven months pregnant and had complained of shortness of breath.
The Portuguese government said in a statement that Dr Temido had “realized that she no longer had the conditions to remain in office”, the BBC reported. The report quotes Portuguese news agency Lusa as saying Prime Minister António Costa said the Indian woman’s death was “the last straw” that led to Dr Temido’s resignation. In June this year, Reuters reported a shortage of obstetricians in Portuguese hospitals, leading to the temporary closure of emergency maternity wards or operations with reduced staff.
The tragedy in Portugal and its fallout are somewhat reminiscent of the 2012 death of a pregnant Indian woman from sepsis in a hospital in Ireland. Savita Halappanavar has been denied a potentially life-saving abortion due to the country’s conservative abortion laws. Savita Halappanavar’s death sparked massive outrage over the systemic problems women faced due to restrictions on abortion and led to legal challenges – which ended in the cancellation of the abortion ban. abortion.
What was the case of Savita Halappanavar?
Savita Halappanavar was a 31-year-old dentist from Karnataka who traveled to Ireland with her Indian husband after they got married. At week 17 of her pregnancy, she complained of back pain and was hospitalized. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said the couple had been told by doctors that a miscarriage was occurring.
At the same time, their request for an abortion given her deteriorating state of health was ignored, with at least one doctor and one midwife reiterating that Ireland was a Catholic country, of so the chance for doctors to perform an abortion was extremely small as long as a heartbeat was detected in the fetus.
Halappanavar gave birth to a dead baby girl three days later. She herself remained in critical condition in intensive care, where she died after a few days after suffering a heart attack caused by sepsis or a blood infection.
How did the death lead to changes in Irish abortion laws?
Shortly after Savita’s death, an inquest into the cause of her death was set up. Besides the conclusion that the abortion could have saved her life, a few procedural steps were also lacking in the care provided to Savita during her hospitalization, such as the failure to take vital signs every four hours, an “undue delay in blood sample reports and note-taking issues.
However, for the general public, the issue came down to the refusal of abortion. At that time, under Irish law, abortion was a crime unless it occurred as a result of medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother, and this exception was applied in rare cases. In Halappanavar’s case, there was some confusion among doctors about whether his case qualified.
In July 2013, the government introduced a bill that would allow abortion in a few cases, marking a major change. The Irish Roman Catholic Church strongly condemned the legislation as a move to “authorize the direct and intentional killing of an innocent baby”.
What was the landmark 8th Amendment referendum of 2018?
Even before Halappanavar’s death, the issue was polarizing. Irish women had to travel to other countries, most often the UK, for an abortion procedure. But the details of that case and the preventable nature of her death have become an emotional issue that has captured the attention of young women in Ireland. Halappanavar’s story and his face have become important symbols of the movement, often depicted at rallies.
Following a recommendation from a citizens’ body, a referendum was held in 2018 to overturn the 8th Amendment to the constitution, which effectively did not allow abortions. The Irish Prime Minister at the time, Leo Varadkar, openly supported the “Yes” movement for overturning the amendment. “I said for the past few days that it was a once in a generation vote. Today I believe we voted for the next generation,” he said.
The referendum saw a majority of 66% of votes to overturn the abortion ban. Today, abortions can be requested up to the 12th week of pregnancy and can be considered if there is a threat to the mother’s life.