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"This is a Catholic country": Irish abortion laws draw condemnation

/ Nov 15, 2012 8:54AM / Print / ()

The story of Savita Halappanavar, who died in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion despite the fact that she was miscarrying, has drawn international scrutiny to Ireland's draconian abortion laws.

Halappanavar turned up to the University Hospital Galwayon on October 21 where she was found to be miscarrying. According to her husband Praveen Halappanavar, his wife's repeated requests for termination over a three-day period were turned down by hospital staff, who allegedly told her "this is a Catholic country".

Halappanavar's husband told The Irish Times that she responded: "I am neither Irish nor Catholic", but they refused to carry out a medical termination because the foetus' heartbeat was present.

He told The Guardian that his wife spent two and a half days "in agony" until the foetal heartbeat stopped. On October 25, the dead foetus was removed. By that point she was seriously ill, having developed septicaemia, and she died one week after arriving at the hospital.

The hospital's refusal to grant her an abortion has rekindled international debate over Ireland's controversial abortion laws.

Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny said there'll be no external inquiry into why a pregnant woman died after being refused an abortion in hospital.

Clare Daly, a left-wing member of the Irish parliament, told Sky news: "A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life.

"We were told this situation would never arise. An unviable foetus – she was having a miscarriage – was given priority over the woman, who unfortunately and predictably, developed septicaemia and died."

An Irish Labour deputy, Patrick Nulty, said that in light of Halappanavar's death there was a pressing and urgent need for parliament to "show responsibility and legislate", calling on his party to press ahead with a reform to abortion laws.

More than 1000 people demonstrated outside the Irish parliament in Dublin, with calls being made for an independent inquiry into the death.

With protests from pro-choice groups planned around Dublin and outside British embassies, Sky news reports that they expect her death to spark a backlash against the Irish government "criticised by left-wing members of parliament for failing to introduce new laws to permit abortion in life-threatening circumstances". 

Check back with Women's Agenda for more on this issue tomorrow.

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