Savita Halappanavar, Ireland
Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old when she died of blood poisoning nearly a week after she arrived at University Hospital Galway (UHG) in Ireland complaining of intense back pain.
Halappanavar, a dentist from Karnataka, in south-west India, was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child and went to hospital with her husband, Praveen, on Sunday 21 October 2012. Within hours, doctors said a miscarriage was inevitable, even though a foetal heartbeat could be heard. By this point, Halappanavar was in “unbearable” pain and “very upset”, according to healthcare staff. The plan was, she was told, to “wait and see” if she would miscarry naturally.
At the time, Irish law stated that abortions were permitted only if there was a “real and substantive” threat to a woman’s life. By Tuesday, there had been no miscarriage. The couple asked whether one could be induced but were told by the doctor: “Under Irish law, if there’s no evidence of risk to the life of the mother, our hands are tied so long as there’s a foetal heart[beat].”
Halappanavar developed a high fever. On the Wednesday morning, the medical team diagnosed infection and, later, septic shock. Her condition was deteriorating rapidly.
A plan was made, but not enacted, to give Halappanavar a drug to induce abortion. According to the Health Service Executive inquiry, by this point, the death of the foetus was certain and the appropriate treatment was to terminate the pregnancy because of the risk to Halappanavar’s life.
Halappanavar spontaneously miscarried mid-afternoon on Wednesday and was admitted to intensive care. She was now critically ill with severe sepsis and multiple organ failure. She suffered a cardiac arrest and died in the early hours of Sunday 28 October, almost a week after being admitted.
The case sparked outrage in Ireland and highlighted how the law put women with life-threatening medical conditions at risk in Irish hospitals. In media interviews, Halappanavar’s husband revealed that he and his wife had repeatedly asked for the pregnancy to be terminated but had been refused and told: “This is a Catholic country.”
Protesters took to the streets, calling for accountability and change, accusing the Irish state of failing to protect its citizens. An Amnesty International report in 2015 said her “entirely preventable death was a consequence of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law”.
Anti-abortion campaigners said the case was being exploited by those with an agenda to liberalise Ireland’s laws, and the Catholic church declared that a woman had no more right to life than the foetus.
The government, under intense public scrutiny, carried out multiple inquiries into Halappanavar’s death. In the HSE’s final report, the investigation team stated that a termination of pregnancy was medically indicated and would have been performed in “other jurisdictions”.
In May 2018, Ireland voted by a landslide to repeal its near-total ban on abortion. The referendum – in which 66.4% voted Yes, a majority of 706,349 – drew the highest turnout for a ballot on social issues.
Olga Reyes, Nicaragua
Olga Reyes, 22, waited in pain for hours at the hospital ward in 2006. She had already been turned away from one hospital but arrived at the next one with the proof that she needed urgent care: an ultrasound scan from a private clinic that showed an ectopic pregnancy was rupturing her fallopian tube.
The fertilised egg had implanted itself outside her womb and the embryo, at about six weeks old, could not survive but was threatening her life: Reyes was bleeding to death. Doctors delayed treatment, fearful of the repercussions of the ban on therapeutic abortions that had been introduced only months earlier, in November 2006. By the time they took Reyes for surgery it was too late.
The 22-year-old law student, who had celebrated her wedding only two months earlier, suffered repeated heart attacks during the operation and died from cerebral arrest due to haemorrhaging.
In a report published the same year on the banning of therapeutic abortions in Nicaragua, the rights organisation Human Rights Watch said she should have been treated immediately under government rules on ectopic pregnancies, but the contradictory new ban on therapeutic abortions meant doctors feared intervening.
Only days after the law was changed, another young woman, the same age as Reyes, spent days asking for treatment from a local hospital without success. When she was transferred to another hospital it was, again, too late. She died of a cardiac arrest.
The penal code Nicaragua introduced to enforce its ban included prison sentences for anyone performing abortions, as well as the women seeking them, regardless of whether their lives were in danger. It was because of this, her husband told the media, that Reyes was left bent double in agony in the hospital ward.
The young women’s deaths did not alter the course of Nicaraguan law. After the ban on therapeutic abortions in 2006, more amendments brought a blanket ban by 2008, with no exceptions for saving the woman’s life.
The morning before her death, Izabela* texted her mother from the hospital. “The child weighs 485g. For now, because of the abortion law, I have to stay in bed and they can’t do anything,” she wrote. “They will wait for the baby to die or for something to start happening. If it doesn’t then great, I can expect sepsis.”
Izabela, 30, owned a hair salon in Pszczyna, a small town in Silesia. On her Instagram account Pani Iza, as she was known to customers, would regularly post photos of her influencer-worthy wedding coiffures and hair transformation. Her clients did not spare compliments. “The best hairdresser in the world, you can see that she loves her job,” reads one of the last online reviews dated June 2021, a month before Izabela died. “Thanks to her, I went from black to blonde and my hair survived!”
When her waters broke at 22 weeks, Izabela thought it was stress. She had spent the day at hospital with her nine-year-old daughter, who had fallen from her scooter. Izabela was taken to hospital the next day, though no treatment was undertaken until the next morning.
“They can’t do anything, because then it’ll look like they did it on purpose,” she texted her mother, to explain why doctors were not inducing the birth hours after the waters broke.
“They have to wait for it to happen on its own. And if it doesn’t, then we’re waiting for the heart to stop beating,” she wrote. “The woman is like an incubator. And the baby is suffering too – it has nothing to breathe with.”
According to a Polish law introduced in 2021, abortion is legal to save the health or life of the mother and in cases where the pregnancy is a result of rape. Previously, the procedure could also be legally carried out in cases of severe foetal abnormalities.
Although the doctors could have legally aborted, they chose not to until it was too late. The law that would have allowed them to do this was “difficult to apply in practice”, says Jolanta Budzowska, the lawyer representing Izabela’s family in a court case against the hospital. “If they carry out an abortion too early and the prosecutors then decide that there was no danger to the mother [at that point] they can face up to three years in prison. Consequently, doctors are more cautious in their decisions.”
As doctors waited for the foetal heartbeat to stop, women on Izabela’s ward recall her pleading with the staff. “She felt that something was not right. But they kept telling her that the heart is beating, and that as long as the heart is beating this is the way it must be,” one woman told Polish media.
“I can still hear her words to this day: that she wants to live, she doesn’t want to die, that she has people to live for,” the woman said.
After nationwide protests, the hospital where Izabela died was fined 650,000złoty (£120,000) by the Polish health service. The court case against the doctor responsible for Izabela during her stay at the hospital is ongoing. The hospital’s director resigned in March.
‘Manuela’, El Salvador
Manuela*, a mother of two from El Salvador, did what most people would do when she fell ill while pregnant in 2008: she went to hospital. Tragically, she miscarried, but instead of medical and social support, she was handcuffed to her hospital bed and interrogated by police.
Manuela, 33, whose full name has never been made public, was charged with aggravated homicide under El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion laws, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. She died of cancer two years later – a disease that activists say was ignored and left untreated during her incarceration.
“The stories of women in El Salvador who have been unjustly criminalised for experiencing obstetric emergencies, as happened to Manuela, should also serve as a global example of the terrible consequences of criminal restrictions on access to a service such as abortion,” says Carmen Martínez, an associate director in Latin America for the Center For Reproductive Rights, a US-based human rights organisation.
Last November, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the state was responsible for Manuela’s death, having violated her rights to life, health, judicial protections and guarantees, freedom from discrimination and gender violence. The court ordered El Salvador to pay reparations to the young woman’s family and to reform its strict abortion laws and healthcare policies.
“There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency,” stated the landmark ruling. “Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.”
El Salvador has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. Since 1998, the procedure has been banned without exception, including in cases of rape and incest. Over the past 20 years, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.
“I remember my mum, she gave us advice and never left us alone. It is painful to grow up without a mother because that love is incomparable,” Santos de Jesús, Manuela’s eldest son, said in a statement before the hearing in March last year. “I ask the state not to do these things because they left us abandoned without a mother.”
At the time of the ruling, many women’s rights activists believed that the Americas could be on the path to further liberalisation of abortion laws – and decriminalisation gains in Colombia and Argentina fuelled those hopes.
However, the leak of the US supreme court’s draft opinion to overturn Roe v Wade has many rights groups worried that progressive policies may remain out of reach.
“The threats to abortion rights in the US matter to all of us because it is a terrible precedent at the international level,” Martinez, one of the lawyers who argued Manuela’s case before the IACHR, says. “This does not mean that what happens in a court like the one in that country can affect the achievements we have made in El Salvador and throughout Latin America, and for which we will continue to work with more enthusiasm.
“Roe v Wade must be protected as well as all laws that have advanced in the decriminalisation of abortion in the world. The fight for our rights has no borders.”
Mildred* was a 15-year-old girl from Manyani estate in the Kenyan city of Nakuru. She was admitted at the Nakuru Level 5 hospital last summer with acute abdominal pains and uncontrollable vomiting. She died writhing in pain, 20 weeks into a pregnancy she had tried and failed to end using herbs and salt.
Her anguished father, David, explained that the family did not know about her pregnancy. Mildred had travelled to the family’s rural home in Bungoma, where, her family believe, she tried to end the pregnancy with the help of an older woman she knew there.
“I did not know that my daughter attempted to terminate her pregnancy using a mixture of herbs, concentrated drinks and salt, a secret she kept close to her heart,” her father says.
“I wish my daughter had accessed a safer abortion … terminating the pregnancy was a better option to her happiness than trading her life with herbs that caused her infection and painful death,” he says.
At the same hospital, two years ago, Betty* died after trying to use detergent to end her pregnancy. The pain of the loss is still raw for her mother, from Racecourse estate, in Nakuru. “I thought my daughter was suffering from malaria. She had severe headache, vomiting and complained of a severe headache,” she says.
Betty died on 19 May 2020 in agony. “It is sad that my daughter suffered in silence. I would have supported and walked with her in her pregnancy journey, and guaranteed her a safe delivery,” says her mother. “It pains me that she died such a painful death, yet I could have helped raise the baby as she continued with her studies.”
Her mother claims Betty was encouraged to take the detergent by her peers for fear of being forced to drop out of school and the stigma that comes with a teenage pregnancy. Kenyan society views teenage mothers as failures, with a number being denied education and forced into early marriages, often with abusive men.
“I wish there was a way of stopping my daughter from dying,” says her mother. “I trusted she would save me from poverty.”
In Kenya, abortion is outlawed under the constitution, with the exception of pregnancy from rape, pushing women and girls into crude methods of abortions, risking their health and their lives. According to the most recent Demographic Health Survey, 35% of maternal deaths in 2014 were as a result of unsafe abortions.
Dr Susan Gitau, chair of the Department of Counselling Psychology at Africa Nazarene University, says many of those who survive such unsafe procedures suffer lasting trauma. “Psychological counselling is key, counselling that should be done within 48 hours,” she says, “because abortion is illegal, girls do not access this.”
* Names have been changed to protect identities.
Ukraine war: The luck of the Ukrainian oligarchs is beginning to change | Economy and Business
In the room of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, in his residence on the outskirts of Kyiv, there is no trace of the Picassos or the Aivazovskys that used to hang on its walls. What does remain are the gigantic empty dressing rooms where the president’s girlfriend once had a space with capacity for a thousand rings. There were also many, many television sets. In the ample residence where the couple lived more than comfortably, there were up to 18 Samsung sets, sometimes several in the same room. Books, on the other hand, were practically non-existent.
However, the most valuable objects – works of art, furniture, jewelry – are no longer here. The former president took them in his hasty flight to Russia during the 2014 Maidan uprising that would change the country’s history. Anyone who is curious can see on YouTube how Yanukovych’s assistants loaded trucks for three days in order to get the spoils from so many years of looting out of the country. After his departure, shocked citizens entered the mansion to discover the shameless ostentation in which their leader had lived.
The mansion where Yanukovych spent his days of relaxation is much more than a house. Not only because the 150 hectares of the Mezhyhirya estate housed a zoo (with the friendly ostriches that are still there today, undaunted by the distress that Ukraine is experiencing), a museum with the luxury cars that the former president collected, a heliport, a tennis court, two huge golf courses, a spa with several saunas and 40 pieces of sports equipment, a shooting range, endless fountains and lakes, and even an artificial mountain complete with a waterfall. All this, just for the man who ruled Ukraine and his girlfriend. If his children visited, they slept in another house. Russian President Vladimir Putin also had another residence in the complex, in case he ever went to Kyiv. And at banquets with many diners, a dining boat received the guests. “During construction, it was estimated that each day of work cost $2 million. It would be impossible to calculate the value of all this,” certifies the guide Genadii Nikolaenko.
Since his flight to Russia, Yanukovych has been an outcast in Ukraine. But Rinat Akhmetov, the oligarch who sponsored his political career, catapulting him to the top, is still the first fortune of his country, with a wealth that Forbes estimated last year at about $7.6 billion. Akhmetov is the most prominent name in the list of Ukrainian oligarchs who control the country through a network of companies and connections. However, luck seems to be changing for this select group.
A dangerous mix
Several factors threaten the position of the men who, until now, have defined the map of power, and who also managed to create political parties that obeyed their personal interests. On the one hand, the war launched by Russia is striking some vital nerves in their finances. On the other, the simultaneous political pressure from Kyiv and Brussels threatens to hurt them even more; a dangerous mix for those who filled their pockets with the privatizations of the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“To understand the role of the oligarchs, it is enough to think of medieval Europe, with kings who competed for power with feudal lords,” explains Volodimir Yermolenko, director of the Ukraine World website, from a placid terrace in Kyiv. This journalist admits that the excessive power of this small number of people is a burden for the country, but he also believes that, to a certain extent, the competition between the powerful entails a kind of balance game that prevents the authoritarian drift of the country that a single leader would imply, as is the case in Russia, where all the oligarchs are subject to the will of the Kremlin.
Akhmetov is the owner, among many other things, of Azovstal, the steel mill that gained worldwide notoriety for becoming the last point of resistance against the Russians in Mariupol, in southern Ukraine. This gigantic complex, one of the sources of Akhmetov’s fortune, generated tens of thousands of jobs, produced 40% of the country’s steel and had its own port at the Sea of Azov.
In May, the tycoon who used to boast privileged ties to Moscow – and who sponsored Yanukovych – announced a $17-20 billion dollar lawsuit against Russia for the destruction of the plant and other assets in the Donbas area. Some analysts estimate that Akhmetov has lost two-thirds of his fortune since the beginning of the war. But for many businessmen the problems are not new; they began in 2014, with the seizure of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Donbas. “The key to seeing if they will recover their former power will be in how the reconstruction tasks are executed and who is entrusted with them,” says a European source. Another oligarch who’s fallen from grace is Viktor Medvedchuk, the Ukrainian billionaire closest to Putin; he was arrested in April accused of “high treason” by the Kyiv authorities.
The oligarchs are not only haunted by financial problems. Perhaps more dangerous for their interests is the political crusade against them. In November 2021, before the Russian troops entered with force and fire, President Volodimir Zelenskiy had already promoted a law to reduce the weight of the tycoons, a group that included some 40 people with an industry monopoly, media outlets, a fortune of more than $90 million, and who take part in political activities. Some critical voices pointed out that, with this initiative, Zelenskiy was not seeking to balance the map of power, but rather to undermine the influence of former President Petro Poroshenko. Zelenskiy himself also has a group of oligarchs around him.
In addition to leading the opposition, Poroshenko is one of the richest men in the country thanks to an empire of candy, cars, media outlets and much more. The tycoon faces up to 15 years in prison for high treason, for the purchase of coal from the pro-Russian separatists of Donetsk, as well as other charges of corruption, trials that he sees as politically motivated.
In an interview with EL PAÍS, last week Poroshenko made the case for demanding responsibility from those “who ruin the country by stealing billions of euros.” Reminded that he too is an oligarch, he angrily protested. “Please don’t use that word!” he exclaimed. “We are in a war right now. And who has stayed here to defend their country, and who has fled? Who is spending their money to support the army and who is stealing? Who pays their taxes and who doesn’t?” His spokesmen assure that he has invested more than €10 million out of his own pocket to help defend Ukraine.
The pressure also comes from Brussels, who wants to get its hands on the Ukrainian super-millionaires. When approving the country’s candidacy to join the EU, the European Commission demanded seven chapters of reforms, one of them to advance the anti-oligarch law. But this must be done, according to Brussels, avoiding arbitrariness. The document also recalled the “disproportionate” influence of these businessmen on the media, especially on television.
Before the war, the gardens that witnessed Yanukovych’s excesses were full of families having picnics. This place, which the guide considers “the heart of Ukraine” due to a story that goes back to the 12th century when a monastery was founded there, is now a public museum and it also served as a refuge when Russian troops approached Kyiv. But it also symbolizes the rise and fall of the man who wanted to control the entire country. Yanukovych, in the words of the journalist Yermolenko, tried to be king and feudal lord at the same time. The question is whether the oligarchs who accompanied him in his career will know how to adapt to a new era of an increasingly European Ukraine, or if they will fall by the wayside.
Bolivia’s corrupt system failed to stem femicide. Now, feminists are fighting back | Women’s rights and gender equality
In parts of La Paz, every surface is papered with layers of bleached and peeling posters: adverts for events, jobs, apartments – and missing women.
In 2021, there were at least 108 femicides in Bolivia, among the highest rates in South America. Many of the perpetrators are either never caught, not punished or go free soon after.
In January, fresh outrage was prompted by the case of Richard Choque, a serial rapist and murderer who was given house arrest and then continued to commit crimes. The wave of fury prompted by the scandal has since driven Bolivia’s feminist collectives to spectacular measures in an effort to force government action against femicides – and the corrupt justice system that allows them.
It started with perhaps the biggest feminist protest seen in El Alto, the one-time satellite city that now flows into La Paz. The march began outside Choque’s house in El Alto and culminated at the courts of justice, where activists covered the walls with graffiti, red paint and the names of unpunished rapists and murderers.
“We wanted to redirect the discourse,” said María Galindo, founder of Mujeres Creando, a feminist collective in La Paz. “For it not to be a discourse of victimhood, nor a tabloid nor a police discourse. Because what Richard Choque shows is that the central problem is state corruption. This man was a prisoner, and yet he went free.”
Galindo has since proved the sharp point of the pressure campaign on the government.
She took to barging into state institutions and putting civil servants on the spot, livestreamed on social media. The one-liners she whipped them with went viral on TikTok. Then she teased a run to be Bolivia’s ombudsman – before tearing her application up in front of the cameras, in a typically flamboyant outfit of fishnet leggings, black eyeshadow and irreverent takes on patriotic symbols, not least a giant crown capped with an Andean condor.
Meanwhile, Mujeres Creando catalogued ignored reports of gender violence and investigated San Pedro prison, where Choque ought to have been held. They found a system of corruption, where inmates bought privileges including house arrest.
In response, the government set up a commission to re-evaluate cases like Choque’s, which, though extreme, was not unique. Twenty-one others released to house arrest inappropriately have since been reincarcerated, while another 50 arrest warrants have been issued. Eighteen judges are facing criminal proceedings and more than 300 of their cases are being re-evaluated.
Such numbers come as no surprise to activists in La Paz and El Alto where gender violence has been accentuated by two factors, said writer Quya Reyn. First, the absence of the state, which creates insecurity. And second, the fact that the city draws migrants – many of them young women – from across Bolivia’s western highlands.
These women are vulnerable to abuse. “If you go to [the centre], you’ll find posters looking for nannies, looking for women to work in restaurants,” said Reyna. “And they are always looking for women – only women.”
“You see this with Richard Choque,” Reyna added. “He would go on Facebook and say that he could offer work. These young women were murdered looking for work.”
In 2013, the government introduced Law 348, which, among other things, made femicide a crime punishable by 30 years in prison – Bolivia’s maximum sentence.
The law was welcomed as progressive legislation at the time, and Adriana Guzmán, a feminist activist based in El Alto, believes the text remains generally sound – the problem is implementation.
First, there is a lack of resources. “Right now, there aren’t enough judges, there aren’t enough prosecutors, there aren’t enough investigators.”
Then there’s corruption, as demonstrated by the case of Choque. “The entire justice system is corrupt – not just with regard to crimes against women.” Guzmán notes that this discriminates most against the poor.
There is some scepticism that the government’s commission will address these root problems.
Galindo, for one, views the commission as an attempt to deflate their pressure campaign. “It’s for the media. It’s a commission that serves to make declarations, not effective policies.”
Meanwhile Guzmán says that it was limited from the start, since it is only reviewing a fraction of gender violence cases. “For it to really be a historic commission, and not a ridiculous one – because it is ridiculous that the state has created a commission to return those to prison who should already be there – the commission needs to finish with a proposal to reform justice and the state.”
Among Bolivia’s feminists there are varying views on how that sort of reform will be achieved.
“The system has to be changed with huge social pressure,” said Galindo. “And we’re building a movement to achieve that.” She believes the campaign Mujeres Creando has led over the last months has strengthened their social legitimacy: “No one can buy us. We are incorruptible.”
But Guzmán is sceptical that this movement reaches much beyond the urban middle classes. And the true forces in Bolivia, says Guzmán, are the campesino and Indigenous organisations. “Within them, feminism isn’t a thing. There are lots of prejudices against feminism.”
In El Alto, meanwhile, Reyna pointed to the lack of feminists in politics pushing for reform. She believes change will come when a new, diverse generation of women enter government and shape it from within.
“I don’t want to fight the state,” said Reyna. “I want to be the state.”
Forty-six migrants found dead inside abandoned trailer in San Antonio, Texas | USA
The bodies of at least 46 migrants were found on Monday inside an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, around 155 miles (250 km) from the border with Mexico. The finding has been confirmed by local authorities.
The vehicle was found next to the railroad tracks in the southwestern part of the city, according to local media reports. Emergency services rescued at least 16 other people who were still alive inside the trailer, including four children, and sent them to hospital for treatment.
This is not the first time that San Antonio experiences such a tragedy, although it is the deadliest in memory. Ten migrants died in 2017 after being trapped inside a truck that was parked at a local Walmart, and in 2003, 19 migrants were found in a sweltering truck southeast of the city.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that a Mexican official was on his way to the site. “We still don’t know their nationalities,” specified a spokesperson for Mexican Foreign Affairs. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is scheduled to meet with Joe Biden at the White House in July, and migration will feature prominently on the agenda. The recently concluded Americas Summit also sought to address growing migration flows to the US, largely from Mexico and Central America.
Monday’s was the latest human tragedy involving busy irregular immigration routes. May broke records for illegal crossings into the US with more than 239,000. The largest access point is through the border shared by Mexico and the State of Texas. This intense migratory flow has created a problem for Joe Biden and the Democrats, who will go to the polls in November in midterm elections with immigration policy as one of the issues of most concern for voters.
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