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Husband testifies his wife died after abortion was denied in Ireland

By Laura Smith-Spark and Peter Taggart, CNN
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
Marchers remember Savita Halappanavar at a demonstration in Dublin, Ireland, on November 17, 2012.
Marchers remember Savita Halappanavar at a demonstration in Dublin, Ireland, on November 17, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Indian dentist was denied abortion for her miscarrying fetus, her widower says
  • Praveen Halappanavar says he hopes the inquest will get to the truth of his wife's death
  • Savita Halappanavar died October 28 of blood poisoning, aged 31
  • The Irish government is to introduce new abortion laws by the summer

(CNN) -- The husband of an Indian dentist whose death sparked anger over Ireland's abortion laws told an inquest on Monday that her requests for a termination for her miscarrying fetus had been denied.

Praveen Halappanavar told the hearing in Galway that he was told that because Ireland is a Catholic country, an abortion could not be done while the fetus was still alive.

He was one of the first witnesses to give evidence at the inquest, which is expected to last several days.

The death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway on October 28 prompted anger in Ireland and elsewhere and sparked demands for Ireland to introduce new abortion laws.

Doctors and nurses from the Galway hospital are also due to testify at the inquest.

Praveen Halappanavar said as he arrived at the courthouse that he hoped the inquest would get to the truth.

He has previously said that his wife was advised her unborn baby would likely die, and that she was in extreme pain.

Savita, 31, went into the hospital on October 21, complaining of back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant at the time.

Three days after the request for a termination was made, the fetus died and was removed. Four days later, Savita died of a blood infection.

The coroner, Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, opened the hearing with a promise to Halappanavar to help find out what happened to his wife.

An inquest by a coroner is standard procedure in cases of sudden, unexplained or unnatural deaths in Ireland.

Opinion: If Ireland had abortion rights

Strict laws

The couple, who married in India, had moved to Ireland four years before Savita's death and were excited to be starting a family, Praveen Halappanavar told CNN last year.

He said the family was left stunned and grief-stricken by her death.

"Every single person in the family asked me, 'How could this happen in a place like Ireland in the 21st century?' -- because it was just so simple," he said.

"When they knew the baby was not going to survive, why not think about the bigger life, which was the mother, my wife, Savita? And they didn't."

A number of inquiries were set up by Irish authorities after Halappanavar died, including one by the Health Service Executive.

The Health Service Executive report has not yet been published but details of the draft text have been leaked to the Irish media.

The Irish government plans to introduce new abortion legislation by the summer.

Minister of Health James Reilly announced late last year that the proposed changes would clarify that abortions are permissible when the life -- but not just the health -- of the mother is at risk.

That would bring the country's laws in line with a 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling that established a woman's right to abortion when her life is at risk, including by suicide.

CNN's Nic Robertson contributed to this report.

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