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Woman dies in Irish hospital after being refused abortion

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Ireland was one of five countries to ask for financial assistance from the EU’s rescue fund program.


A woman miscarried and died in an Irish hospital after her pleas for an abortion were turned down because "this is a Catholic country," her husband says, fuelling anew the abortion debate in Ireland.

Savita Halappanavar, 27, died three weeks ago at a hospital in the western port of Galway.

A dentist who had moved from India with her husband, Ms. Halappanavar was 17-weeks pregnant and just had a baby shower when she was hospitalized, complaining of back pains.

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Doctors examined Ms. Halappanavar and told her she was going to miscarry within hours, her husband, Praveen, said in an interview with the Irish Times.

However, the miscarriage didn't happen immediately and she remained in pain for several days while the hospital staff checked the fetal heartbeat.

"Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked, if they could not save the baby, could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, 'As long as there is a fetal heartbeat we can't do anything,' " Mr. Halappanavar told the Irish Times.

"Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. 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."

After another 2 1/2 days, the fetal heartbeat had stopped and the dead fetus removed. Three days later, Ms. Halappanavar died of septicemia, a blood infection. Her remains were brought back to India and her husband gave his interview from the southern state of Karnataka.

Ms. Halappanavar's death is believed to be the first publicized case in Ireland where a woman died after failing to get an abortion, said Clare Daly, an opposition member of Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament's lower house.

"It's an absolutely shameful day for Ireland ... people are in shock," Ms. Daly said.

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Earlier this year, Ms. Daly unsuccessfully proposed a law detailing when women could have abortions.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland. However, in a landmark judgment in the "X case" in 1992, which dealt with a 14-year-old girl who became suicidal after she was raped, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that a women had the right to abortion when there is a "real and substantial risk" to their health.

Still, Irish politicians have not enacted laws to follow up on the X case court decision.

"The problem has been that, for over 20 years, all of the governments have not put in legislation to give that [court decision] meaning, to give guidance to medical practitioners as to what means and how that could be dealt with," Ms. Daly said.

As a result, thousands of Irish women who want to terminate pregnancies have resorted to travelling to Britain, she said.

Ireland's Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, confirmed Wednesday that there were two internal investigations looking at the case, one by the hospital and another by the national health-care authority, the Health Service Executive.

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Calling Ms. Halappanavar's death a tragedy, Mr. Kenny told the Dáil Éireann that the government should not act before the results of the two probes.

Abortion was outlawed in Ireland in 1861. In 1983, the ban became part of the constitution following a referendum.

However, politicians in Ireland have been under pressure to act after three Irish women successfully went to the European Court of Human Rights in 2009, complaining that their rights as European Union citizens was infringed by the abortion ban.

The Irish government appointed an experts' panel to draft proposals on how the country should follow up on the European Court decision. The expert's report was handed to Health Minister James Reilly just as the controversy about Ms. Halappanavar's death became public Wednesday.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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