Irish woman after abortion refusal

Irish authorities on Wednesday investigated the death of a woman who was refused a termination after doctors told her it was a Catholic country, in a case that has revived debate about abortion laws.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny told lawmakers he was awaiting the results of two reviews of the death of Savita Halappanavar, who is originally from India, at University Hospital Galway in western Ireland.

Abortion is illegal in Roman Catholic-dominated Ireland except when it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, repeatedly asked the hospital to terminate her pregnancy because she had severe back pain and was miscarrying, her family said.

But staff had told the 31-year-old dentist, a Hindu, that she could not have an abortion because Ireland was a Catholic country and the foetus was still alive, her husband Praveen told the Irish Times.

"The consultant said, 'As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can't do anything,'' he told the newspaper by telephone from the Karnataka region of southern India.

"The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: 'I am neither Irish nor Catholic' but they said there was nothing they could do.''

She died of septicaemia, or blood poisoning, on October 28, a week after she was admitted. The foetus had been removed on October 23 after its heartbeat stopped.

The hospital said in a statement that it had ordered a review into Savita Halappanavar's death but it had not yet started as it was waiting to consult with the Halappanavar family, who are in India for her funeral.

The couple lived in Galway, where 34-year-old Praveen Halappanavar worked as an engineer.

Prime Minister Kenny said the health minister had asked for a report on the circumstances surrounding Halappanavar's death, while investigations had been launched by the hospital and by Ireland's Health Service Executive.

"I think it would be very appropriate that we don't rule anything out here but there are two investigations here,'' he told lawmakers when the case was raised in parliament.

Rachel Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the group Galway Pro-Choice, said the incident highlighted the need for legal change.

"This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner. Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences,'' she said.

Protests by pro-choice groups were planned later outside the Irish parliament in Dublin and the Irish embassy in the British capital London.

Ireland's abortion laws have been the subject of debate for years.

Under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling women in Ireland are legally entitled to an abortion when it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

But legislation has never been passed to reflect this.

Health Minister James Reilly has promised to introduce legislation during the term of this government, and is awaiting a report from an expert group.

Ireland has also held two referendums on the subject.

A 1982 referendum acknowledged the "right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the life of the mother,'' while a second in 1992 added an amendment that permitted the right to travel abroad for an abortion.

The European Court of Human Rights in December 2010 condemned Ireland for obliging a woman suffering from cancer and who feared a pregnancy would worsen her health to have an abortion abroad.

Savita Halappanavar's death comes just weeks after the first ever private abortion clinic opened in the British province of Northern Ireland despite fierce opposition.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency