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Portrait of Savita Halappanavar carried by a mourner in Belfast

Woman's death could change Ireland's abortion laws

RobK(Photo: The Hindu)

The death of a woman in Ireland who was refused an abortion has led to public anger on the streets of Dublin and in the UK, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

On October 21, Savita Halappanavar was admitted to University Hospital Galway. The 31-year-old Indian national was pregnant and complaining of intense back pain.

Within hours, staff at the Irish medical center discovered she was miscarrying. Over the next two days, according to family accounts, the pain worsened. Halappanavar requested an abortion, and according to her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, was refused, because Ireland is a “Catholic country.”

By October 27, the fetal heartbeat stopped, and the fetus was removed. Savita Halappanavar's kidneys and liver stopped working, and shortly after she died of blood poisoning.

The hospital did not return numerous calls for comment, but according to several former patients, as well as a government official, University Hospital Galway has a strong Catholic ethos that often guides administration decisions.

The reaction in Halappanavar's home country has been highly critical. The India Times headline ran a story with the headline, “Ireland Murders Pregnant Indian Dentist.” Other papers accused Ireland of still living in the Dark Age.

Inquiries
On Friday, Irish Health Minister James Reilly held a private meeting with the husband of Savita Halappanavar.

He is seeking an independent public inquiry into his wife's death.

Ireland's Health Authority (HIQA) has also now launched an inquiry into the 31-year-old's death at University Hospital Galway last month.

The Health Information and Quality Authority has said it will publish the findings of its inquiry once it is completed.

Dr Reilly described HIQA's decision as a welcome development.

If mother at risk
For 20 years, the Irish government has failed to codify abortion rights when the life of the mother is threatened by her pregnancy. In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court heard what's known as the “X case,” and ruled those rights must be extended to women when their life is in jeopardy. The court cited the constitution as the legal basis for the ruling.

But the government has so far refused to act. Most recently, Ireland's parliamentary body - the Dail - postponed releasing a governmental report on abortion in September. Conservative members did not want the public debating abortion at the same time the public would vote on another controversial amendment, the Children's Referendum, which was opposed by rural conservatives. - (IEDE)

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