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Nov 15, 2012 at 11:43pm IST

Ireland: Death of Indian woman after being refused abortion sparks public, political anger

New Delhi: The tragic death of a 31-year-old Indian dentist in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar, who died after being denied a life-saving abortion at an Irish hospital, has ignited public protests and political debate on the country's abortion laws that are based on Catholic principles. Seventeen weeks pregnant, Savita was admitted to a hospital after she complained of severe back pain. Her husband said the doctors diagnosed the miscarriage within hours, but despite his appeals to conduct an abortion, they refused. The cause of her death was blood poisoning.

Savita's parents in Belgaum have slammed Ireland's laws, saying that the government must do a rethink after this incident. "In order to save a 3-week child, they killed my 30-years-old daughter," her mother said. Savita's father added, "This is because of the negligence of the Irish doctors. We are looking for the inquiry. Irish rules must be changed. Now I am requesting to change the law of Ireland."

The National Commission for Women also said a change in Ireland's laws was needed. NCW Chairperson Mamta Sharma said, "I believe that they have some laws and rules. But if she is on the death bed, I think there should be humanity. Her parents should talk to the government of Ireland. If in our country such a thing happens, I will surely talk to the PM and CM. I think a change is needed." CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat demanded that the government of India must step in.

The case has now triggered a fierce debate in the Irish Parliament. Though the Irish authorities have ordered a probe, there have been calls for the Indian government to take action.

Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was awaiting findings from three investigations into the death of Savita. Her case highlighted the legal limbo in which pregnant women facing severe health problems can find themselves in predominantly Catholic Ireland.

Thousands of people rallied outside Ireland's parliament on Wednesday to demand strict abortion rules be eased after the news of Savita's death. Ireland's constitution officially bans abortion, but a 1992 Supreme Court ruling found the procedure should be legalized for situations when the woman's life is at risk from continuing the pregnancy. Five governments since have refused to pass a law resolving the confusion, leaving Irish hospitals reluctant to terminate pregnancies except in the most obviously life-threatening circumstances.

The vast bulk of Irish women wanting abortions, an estimated 4,000 per year, simply travel next door to England, where abortion has been legal on demand since 1967. But that option is difficult, if not impossible, for women in failing health.

With the hospital in Galway confirming that the victim died after being denied an emergency abortion, perhaps it's time for Ireland to rethink its anti-abortion laws.

With additional information from Reuters