Irish rally for government action on abortion

Sat Nov 17, 2012 5:12pm EST
 
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By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - At least 5,000 people marched to the offices of Ireland's socially conservative prime minister on Saturday to call for clearer guidelines on abortion following the death of a woman denied a termination.

It was the largest of a wave of protests across Ireland in recent days in response to the death of 31-year old Indian woman Savita Halappanavar who died of septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

The Irish health authority (HSE) has launched an inquiry into the death, which has reopened a decades-long debate over whether the government should legislate to explicitly allow abortion when the health of a mother is at risk.

Activists in the overwhelmingly Catholic country, which has some of the world's most restrictive laws on abortion, say the refusal by doctors to terminate the pregnancy earlier may have contributed to Halappanavar's death.

"A vibrant, healthy woman starting her family life has died needlessly ... because of the failure of successive governments to deal with this issue," independent member of parliament Clare Daly told the crowd, which responded with chants of "shame."

Irish law does not specify exactly when the threat to the life or health of the mother is high enough to justify a termination, leaving doctors to decide. Critics say this means doctors' personal beliefs can play a role.

Despite a dramatic waning of the influence of the Catholic Church, which dominated politics in Ireland until the 1980s, successive governments have been loath to legislate on an issue they fear could alienate conservative voters.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose ruling Fine Gael party made an election pledge not to introduce new laws allowing abortion, on Friday said he would not be rushed into a decision on the issue.   Continued...

 
People participate in a vigil in Dublin November 17, 2012, in memory of Savita Halappanavar and in support of changes to abortion law. A wave of protests have taken place across Ireland in recent days in response to the death of 31-year old Halappanavar who died of septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton