ireland indian woman abortion dies_00005719
Abortion law blamed for woman's death
03:10 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Savita Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, went into a hospital complaining of back pain

Doctors said she was having a miscarriage that would end in a matter of hours, report says

Halappanavar's husband sought an abortion to end the pain, but doctors refused, citing law

Her death led to protests, and top Irish lawmakers are discussing a change to the law

CNN  — 

Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws are under fire after an Indian woman living there died after being refused an abortion last month.

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

The doctors who examined her told her she was having a miscarriage but denied her an abortion even though she was in extreme pain, her husband has said. Halappanavar died at the hospital, leading lawmakers to call for an investigation into what role abortion laws may have played in her death.

“They knew they couldn’t help the baby. Why did they not look at the bigger life?” her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, told the Irish Times.

Halappanavar was told that the miscarriage would be over in a matter of hours, said Kitty Holland, who reported the story for the Irish Times.

But the hours kept ticking and Halappanavar remained in terrible pain, so her husband asked doctors to expedite the miscarriage by carrying out an abortion.

Doctors at Galway University Hospital said that as long as the fetal heartbeat could be felt, the law prevented them from ending the pregnancy, Holland said. Halappanavar died of septicemia, or a blood infection, after three days in the hospital.

“Tuesday morning, came back and said, ‘Sorry, can’t help you. It’s a Catholic country. Can’t help you. It’s a Catholic team.’ So, Savita said that she was not a Catholic. She is Hindu, so why impose the law of the land on her?” her husband said.

The death led to protests, and top Irish lawmakers are asking whether the law needs to be changed.

In Ireland, abortion is legal if the mother’s life is at risk, which is different from her health being at risk, Holland said.

The hospital expressed sympathy to Halappanavar’s husband, but noted in a statement that “the facts of this tragic case have yet to be established.”

The hospital is conducting a review of the incident, as it does will all unexpected deaths. The Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group released a statement saying, “In the case of a sudden maternal death, these procedures are followed: notification of the death to the coroner; notification of the death to the HSE’s National Incident Management Team; the completion of a maternal death notification form. These national procedures are being followed by Galway University Hospital.”

Halappanavar’s death is “particularly tragic and harrowing, and shocking to all concerned,” Irish opposition lawmaker Micheal Martin said before parliament.

He called for an independent inquiry into the case “with personnel from outside the country to participate on such a panel of inquiry.”

The Irish government needs to “establish the full circumstances” of her death, he said.

The Irish head of state, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, said two investigations are under way.

Gerry Adams, leader of Ireland’s Sinn Fein political party, said it’s time for the government to legislate for abortion in certain medical cases.

The incident is garnering attention outside of Ireland, too.

In neighboring Northern Ireland, a lawmaker called for a review of abortion laws there, as well.

“An abortion to save the life of the mother is legal here, but the lack of clear guidelines has created such uncertainties and confusion amongst medical staff that such an occurrence could happen again,” Anna Lo said.

In London, an abortion rights demonstration took place Wednesday evening outside the Irish Embassy.

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CNN’s Nic Robertson contributed to this report