Ireland Probes Death of Miscarrying Woman Seeking Abortion

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Although Gecsi can only comment on what she's read, she said it seemed as though Halappanavar was suffering from an infection given the agony her husband described.

Halappanavar's husband told the Irish Times the couple asked doctors to end the pregnancy repeatedly, and were refused even though his wife's cervix was fully dilated and her amniotic fluid was leaking. The night after the fetal heartbeat stopped and doctors cleared the uterus, he got a call from the hospital.

"They said they were shifting her to intensive care," Praveen Halappanavar told the Irish Times. "Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday, but by 7 p.m. on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren't functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her."

Dr. Bryna Harwood, a gynecologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said Halappanavar's story was more nuanced than it appeared on the surface. Although the ruptured amniotic sac could have led to an infection that caused the septicemia, it was impossible to know from published details whether Halappanavar's infection was related to her pregnancy, she said.

The septicemia also could have come from a kidney infection or an appendicitis, both of which can be harder to detect in pregnancy, can be exacerbated by immune system changes in pregnancy and can cause pregnancy complications. They would also cause the back pain Halappanavar's husband described.

"You treat based on the source of the infection," Harwood said, adding that if the infection's source is the uterus, terminating the pregnancy can be part of the solution.

Gesci said there wasn't much doctors could do for the fetus at 17 weeks old because fetuses are not considered viable until 24 weeks, meaning they cannot survive outside the womb. Gesci added that steroids and antibiotics haven't been proven to benefit fetuses younger than 24 weeks old, either.

Gesci said many women miscarry and have their water break early in the United States, but she wanted pregnant women to know that they shouldn't fear that what happened to Halappanavar will happen to them.

"This is something that can happen, and it's terribly unfortunate what happened to this woman, but in most cases, this is not something we see happen," Gesci said. "We do have ways to treat this to avoid a woman becoming severely ill or losing her life."

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