An Indian woman who was 17 weeks pregnant entered University Hospital Galway in western Ireland in severe pain. Doctors quickly determined that Savita Halappanavar was miscarrying, but they refused to perform an abortion for three days. It was only when the fetus showed no signs of life that they removed its remains. By that time, the woman had developed severe blood poisoning and she died soon thereafter.
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We turn now to Ireland and a controversy over a young Indian woman there, who died after being refused an abortion in a hospital.
As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, her case is reigniting debate over the near total ban on abortions in Ireland.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: A few weeks ago, Savita Halappanavar had everything to look forward to. She was 31, a qualified dentist, awaiting her first child. She was 17 weeks into her pregnancy and had already had a baby shower. Her husband, Praveen, is an engineer who was working in Ireland. He says he and Savita believed Ireland was a great place to have a baby. Then, everything went wrong.
In Ireland's capital, Dublin, hundreds this week turned out to mourn Savita's death and to demand an overhaul of Ireland's abortion laws.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: To change the regulations, to add clarity and to protect women's lives.
REEVES: There were other pro-choice demonstrations elsewhere.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
PROTESTERS: Not the church. Not the state. Women must decide their fate. Not the...
REEVES: That one was in London.
Savita died last month after being admitted to Galway's University Hospital in western Ireland with severe back pain. Irish government officials confirm that, though she was in the throes of a miscarriage, Savita was refused an abortion. Her husband, Praveen, claims he and Savita repeatedly asked for an abortion, over several days. He says doctors responded by saying they couldn't do anything while there was a fetal heartbeat.
Praveen says one doctor replied by saying, Ireland is a Catholic country - this is the law. Savita was an Indian Hindu.
Praveen is convinced that if she'd had an abortion, his wife would have survived.
PRAVEEN HALAPPANAVAR: Of course, no doubt about it.
REEVES: The fetus eventually died. Its remains were surgically removed. Savita died of septicemia, a week after entering hospital. Her death's made a big impact in Ireland. It came up in Parliament, promoting these remarks from Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
PRIME MINISTER ENDA KENNY: I would like to extend our sympathy to Praveen Halappanavar and the death of his wife, Savita. This is a case of maternal death where a child has been lost, a mother has died and a husband is bereaved.
REEVES: Ireland has extremely tight restrictions on abortion. That's why every year, thousands of Irish women travel to neighboring Britain for terminations. Abortions are banned under Ireland's constitution, unless a woman's life is at risk. But the laws over applying that latter rule are foggy.
The European Court of Human Rights has long pressed Ireland to clear this up.
SINEAD AHEARN: I suppose the reaction in Ireland is one of shock and horror that this has happened in one of our own hospitals.
REEVES: Sinead Ahearn, of Choice Ireland, says Savita's death has highlighted a shocking lack of legal clarity over abortion laws that needs resolving.
AHEARN: I suppose women in Ireland have a constitutional right to an abortion under these circumstances. But because there's no legislation, both guiding doctors in terms of how they would make that decision or who would make that decision, effectively a woman can't access that right.
REEVES: The Irish government is exploring legal reforms. There'll be no changes, though, until it sees the outcome of two official investigations into Savita's death.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.