Midwife admits Catholic 
remark to dying mother

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A senior midwife has apologised after admitting she told an Indian woman suffering a miscarriage she could not have a termination in Ireland because of Catholic influence.

Visibly shaken, Ann Maria Burke told the inquest into Savita Halappanavar’s death she was not trying to be hurtful, but was attempting to explain the law of the land.

“I am sorry that I said it,” she said.

Coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin said the Catholic remark “went all around the world”. “I know that,” the middle-aged midwife replied. “This was not anything to do with providing care for her.”

Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to University Hospital Galway on Sunday October 21 and delivered a dead baby daughter on Wednesday October 24. She died the following Sunday of a heart attack caused by septicaemia due to E.coli.

Ms Burke said she used the reference to Catholic teaching after Mrs Halappanavar, 31, who was crying, said she was Hindu and that if she had been in India she would have ended her pregnancy. She said she was trying to describe “the law of the land” following a scan which showed there was still a feotal heartbeat. “I was trying to be sensitive,” she said. “In effect the opposite way to what was portrayed.”

The inquest also heard the dead woman’s consultant admit there were systemic failures in care.

Obstetrician Dr Katherine Astbury said she was unaware of blood test abnormalities as they had not been passed on from the weekend staff on-call, that Mrs Halappanavar’s clinical signs were not checked regularly and she did not know a junior colleague suspected Mrs Halappanavar was suffering from sepsis.

Dr Astbury has denied she refused Mrs Halappanavar’s pleas for a termination a day earlier because “Ireland is a Catholic country” but admitted she was restricted by Ireland’s abortion law. “If you need to give somebody medication to deliver and there’s a foetal heartbeat my understanding is that legally you are considered to be terminating.”

The hearing continues.