Pressure to reform Irish abortion rules after miscarriage death

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The Irish government is under pressure to reform its abortion laws after a pregnant Indian woman suffered a miscarriage and died.

Twenty years since a controversial abortion case over a teenage rape victim split the country, and two years since European judges called for clear direction on when a termination is legal, the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital has sparked a backlash.

The 31-year-old dentist was 17 weeks pregnant when she died on October 28 after suffering a miscarriage and developing septicaemia. Her husband, Praveen, alleged doctors refused several requests for a medical termination, saying the foetus’s heartbeat was present. He said they were told: “This is a Catholic country.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described it as a “tragic case” and pledged the Government would respond by the end of the month to an unconnected 2010 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that called for reform of abortion law.

The coalition is the seventh Irish government which has failed to legislate since the 1992 case where the Attorney General asked the courts to impose a travel ban on the 14-year-old, which the Supreme Court later overturned because of her suicide risk. The girl miscarried before a termination was carried out.

Two investigations into Mrs Halappanavar’s death have been launched by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group and the country’s health chiefs.

Meanwhile, streets surrounding the Irish parliament were shut down and traffic ground to a halt during rush-hour as about 2,000 demonstrators staged a protest. Kildare Street and Molesworth Street were flooded with protesters who listened to speeches from pro-choice campaigners before a minute’s silence.