The husband of a Hindu woman who died after she was denied an abortion at an Irish hospital has said that medical staff refused to perform the procedure because Ireland is "a Catholic country."
"It was her first baby, first pregnancy and you know she was on top of the world basically," Praveen Halappanavar said of his wife, Savita Halappanavar, who died on Oct. 28, when she was 17 weeks pregnant. The baby, which died earlier that week after its heart stopped, was surgically removed from the 31-year-old mother, but that did not save her as her condition worsened.
"She was so happy and everything was going well, she was so excited," Halappanavar explained. "On the Saturday night everything changed, she started experiencing back pain so we called into the hospital, the university hospital."
"They said unfortunately she can't because it's a Catholic country," he said they were told after making the request for an abortion.
When his wife told medical personnel she was Hindu and not Catholic and should be exempt from the law, she was told, "'I'm sorry, unfortunately it's a Catholic country' and it's the law that they can't abort when the fetus is live," Halappanavar said.
The incident occurred at University Hospital Galway. Halappanavar told BBC News that they had asked for the abortion several times, but never received the help that they wanted. He said that there was "no doubt" that his wife would still be alive today if staff had carried out the termination. An autopsy two days after his wife's death concluded that she had died from septicaemia, a type of blood poisoning complication related to pregnancy.
The Republic of Ireland has one of the strictest abortion laws in all of Europe, and the heavily Roman Catholic country has outlawed the practice except for cases where the mother's life is directly in danger.
University Hospital Galway has said that it will carry out an internal investigation into the matter.
"Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group wishes to emphasize that the facts of this tragic case have yet to be established; that is the purpose of the review," the university said in a statement.
The Irish Health Service Executive's (HSE) National Incident Management Policy has also said it will carry out its own investigation.
"It would be very appropriate that we don't rule anything out here, but there are two reports and investigations going on at the moment," said Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
The incident is likely to again stir up the abortion debate in the Catholic country. The World Health Organization has revealed that despite incidents such as these, Ireland is actually one of the safest places in the world to become pregnant – only three out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth in Ireland, compared with an average of 14 in Europe and North America, 190 in Asia and 590 in Africa.
Pro-abortion groups have said, however, that this case should cause politicians to reconsider the ban on abortion and allow women more options.
"Today, some 20 years after the X case, we find ourselves asking the same question: If a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether she has a right to a termination here in Ireland?" said Choice Ireland spokeswoman Stephanie Lord, referring to the 1992 Irish Supreme Court case that allowed abortion only in the cases where a mother's life is directly in danger.