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Ireland probes death of woman refused abortion

Doctors knew woman was miscarrying but did nothing, say family.

DUBLIN // Irish authorities launched an investigation yesterday into the death of an Indian woman whose family said she had been refused an abortion, despite the serious risk to her own life.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, had repeatedly asked University Hospital Galway to terminate her pregnancy because she had severe back pain and was miscarrying, her family said.

But staff told her she could not have an abortion because Ireland was a Catholic country and the foetus was still alive, her husband, Praveen, told the Irish Times. She was 17-weeks pregnant, when she approached doctors.

"Savita said: 'I am neither Irish nor Catholic' but they said there was nothing they could do," said Mr Halappanavar.

Doctors realised Mrs Halappanavar was miscarrying one week before her death, then diagnosed blood poisoning.

However, they repeatedly refused pleas for a termination because the foetus still had a heartbeat, he added.

Mrs Halappanavar, a dentist who had lived in Galway since 2008, died of blood poisoning on October 28, three days after the foetus died and its remains were surgically removed.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland, except when it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

Ireland's Health Service Executive has launched an investigation into the case.

The hospital said that a review into Mrs Halappanavar's death had not yet started as it was waiting to consult with her family, who are in India for her funeral.

In December 2010, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Ireland for obliging a woman suffering from cancer, and who feared a pregnancy would worsen her health, to have an abortion abroad.

Opposition politicians called yesterday for the government to pass a law that would give doctors clear rules on performing abortions to save a woman's life.

* With Associated Press