Abortion controversy in Ireland

According to a BBC report, a survey conducted following the death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish hospital found 80% of Irish respondents in favour of legalization of abortion to save the life of a mother, including situations in which the mother threatens to commit suicide if an abortion is not provided. In a radio interview, Reporter Kitty Holland, who broke the story, was questioned about why  her  original article in the Irish Times failed to include an admission made in a later Observer article: that there was no evidence that Halappanavar dies because she was denied an abortion.

Marc Coleman (MC): On the 17th of November, in The Observer, you wrote that there was no evidence, as of yet, that, eh, that Savita had died for want of a termination. Can I ask you why that sentence, that very important sentence. .

Kitty Holland (KH): Hmm.

MC: . . was in your Observer article on the Saturday but not in the original article that you wrote on the 14th of November for the Irish Times?

KH: Well, I suppose throughout the um, the art, the original article, em, I mean it was, it was quoting the concerns of the, husband, Praveen, and, uh, at no point, uh, I mean, there was, uh, it, you know it was hinted at in the headline which obviously I didn’t write, those quotes. .

MC: … Mm hm.

KH: . . you know, refused a termination was in quotes. Ahm, ah, but it, you know, I was reporting the concerns of, the husband and, and what he said he was concerned about and what he said happened in the hospital, whereas my piece in The Observer was a more kind of, background piece from my point of view, so it was obviously important for me to say, quite explicitly, that, you know, and it, there was, it has not been established that . .

MC: . . Sure, sure.

 KH: .. that there was a lack of access to a termination.

MC: . . But can you see, I suppose, can you see from the point of view of a lot of people that the contrast between what you wrote in The Observer and the headline on the original story,

 KH: .. Mm.

MC: . .and I take your point that you did not write that headline. But it did travel around the world very quickly . .

KH: Yeah.

MC: .. that, the assumption that this woman had died, precisely because of a lack of termination.

KH:  Well, I mean, they were, they were what, what I wrote was, was, were the concerns of the husband, and, um, I suppose what readers took, decided to infer from that is, ah, what the concerns were of the husband and what he stated happened, from his recollection of events, em, in the hospital.

MC:.. Mm hm.

KH: Em, whereas I said, the piece in The Observer was, ah, you know, a piece by me about the background. And, ahm, I mean, I suppose, the fact that ah, a healthy, well, as far as we know healthy thirty one year old, ah, woman who was 17 weeks pregnant entered a, hospital in 21st century Ireland and died, was dead a week later

MC:.. Hm.

KH: .. is a, tragic story anyway.

MC:.. Yeah.

KH: Ahm, I would have been a big story anyway. A maternal death is very rare. And, and, but it’s, it’s the husband’s, ehm, recollection or take on

MC: Hm.

KH: .. the events, and his concerns that he was, wanted to talk about

MC:.. Sure.

KH: You know, I, that, that, that took it off around the world.

MC:..Okay. And can we just, in fact, point on one fact of confusion between the Irish Times and RTE. Because on RTE’s website there’s a timeline, ah, attributed to the hospital itself. .

KH: Mm hm.

MC:.. Which states that, and, and it is the only date the timeline gives, the timeline gives for which Savita was given antibiotics, and it states that she was given antibiotics on a Monday. However, ah, in your original article, it, it clearly says that she was given antibiotics on a Tuesday. But then in the interview you did with Praveen H. which was up on the Irish Times website, he says in the first four minutes of that interview that the antibiotics were administered on a Sunday. Eh, for those of us who are very confused by all of this, do you think you could help to reconcile those three different versions of events?

KH: Ehm, well I mean the, the the HSE timeline is the HSE’s timeline, ahm, which, ah, um, was Monday. Ahm, he said, said to me that it definitely was on a Tuesday and as I, as I recall, during that interview, ahm, that, in the original interview I did with him when he was in India he said he’s had to choose days.

MC: .. Right

KH: That she was started on antibiotics when she collapsed. Ehm, when he says she collapsed. .

MC:.. Which was on a Tuesday, originally.

KH: On a Tuesday evening and she was getting very ill.

MC: .. Fine.

KH: Um, now, he did, he said to me in the interview when I spoke to him back in Galway that there was then, ah, was this the recorded one?

MC: .. This is the recorded one on the Irish Times website

KH: .. that was just audio or was. . (talked over)

MC: . . where he clearly says it was a Tuesday, ah, sorry, Sunday. He says that the, on this interview he says, “The antibiotics were administered on a Sunday.”

KH: And was that the audio, or was

MC:.. It was the audio.

KH: . . it the video? Okay. There were two. Eh, ehm, the audio, ehm, I mean the, all one, one can surmise is that his, his recollection of events is, is, you know, that, that the actual timeline, ehm, and days that may, may be, a little muddled. I. .

MC:.. Okay.

KH: Just. Ahm, I mean he said to me at one point that she was given paracetimol and not antibiotics, at one point in interview as well, not given antibiotics at any point, so, I mean, but one assumes she was given antibiotics.

MC:..Right.

KH: When she was that ill.

MC: .. And I suppose this leads to the, to the final question, in that, eh, what, to what do you attribute the disparity between, ah, Praveen Halappananvar’s ah, assertion that the family asked for termination, and the fact that the hospital records contain, aa, they contain notes of requests for tea and toast . .

KH: Hmm.

MC: .. and many other things but they contain no request, aaa, for a termination?

KH: And again we only have Praveen and his solicitor’s take on what was in or not in the notes, so, I mean, what, what, we’re relying all the time on, ehm, on their take on, on what happened. Ehm, I don’t know. That’s a huge gap and if, if that is the case, ehm, and, and it is the case that she, a termination was requested and Praveen says that there were witnesses to these requests . .

MC: ..Mm hm.

KH: .. ehm, so that would all come out in the inquiry. If there, if that’s not in the notes, as they say it’s not in the notes, well then that is obviously a huge gap and I suppose one may even wonder, are requests for terminations recorded at all

MC:.. Ah.

KH: .. in Irish maternity hospitals (unintelligible)

MC: .. But you’re absolutely satisfied, despite saying that his recollection might have been muddled to a certain extent, you’re satisfied that he did request a termination?

KH: Oh, I’m not satisfied of anything. I mean, I’m, I’m satisfied of what he told me, but I mean I, I, I await as much, as much as anyone else, ehm, the, the, the inquiry and what the findings. I mean, I can’t tell for certain, I mean, who knows what commissions of inquiry may say, you know, they, they may come back and say, you know, she came in with the disease she caught from something outside the hospital before she even arrived in, and

MC: .. Sure

KH:  . . that there was no request for termination, and, ehm, that. Ehm, we, we await with bated breath the (unintelligible)

MC: .. Okay

KH: (unintelligble). .as recounted to me, and recounted to many other people quite reasonably consistently by her husband. . .

3 thoughts on “Abortion controversy in Ireland”

  1. The claim that the interview discloses “major discrepancies” is, arguably, overblown. However, it does demonstrate that the current controversy about the death of Savita Halappanavar is not informed by relevant facts. It also reveals that the Irish Times headline appears to have been deliberately written to sensationalize the story and shape public response to it. This made the jouralists involved part of the story they were covering. Holland attempts to absolve herself by stating that she did not write the headline and that readers were responsible for the (perhaps incorrect) inferences they drew from her Irish Times story. It is doubtful that journalists would accept such excuses from politicians or office holders attempting to disassociate themselves from the consequences of their own inaccurate, inflammatory or misleading public statements.

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