Thousands Rally for Abortion Rights in Ireland After Woman's Death

Thousands of people backed by pro-choice groups took to streets of Dublin on Saturday to demand amendment to Ireland's anti-abortion laws following the death of a Hindu woman, Savita Halappanavar, who was refused an abortion.

The march in Dublin was headed by a giant banner which read, "Never Again," and carried pictures of Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who died on Oct. 28 after spending a week in University Hospital Galway with severe pain at the start of a miscarriage, Irish Times reported.

With about 10,000 people, the Dublin rally was seen as huge by Irish standards. Similar marches were also held in the Irish cities of Galway, Kilkenny and Carlow as well as in London.

"The anger extends beyond Ireland," organizer Sinead Kennedy of the pro-choice group Irish Choice Network was quoted as telling the crowd in Dublin. "For more than 20 years we have seen political cowardice and inaction on this issue. The theme of this march is 'never again.' Never again will a woman be allowed to die."

Sinead Ahern, a representative from another pro-abortion group, Choice Ireland, told the crowd many other demonstrations were taking place around Ireland and the world. "As huge as the crowd is today we are only part of what is happening today. Today we march and today we stand in solidarity," she was quoted as saying. She added that Irish people had been waiting for 20 years to get the legislation amended.

Critics say Ireland's laws concerning abortion, based on an 1861 statute, remain ambiguous despite the Supreme Court ruling in 1992 that abortions should be legal to save the life of the woman, including if she makes credible threats to commit suicide if denied one. A 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment also asked Ireland to clarify the status of abortion in its law.

The Associated Press says doctors refused a request made by Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, to remove the fetus until its heartbeat stopped four days after her hospitalization. Hours later she became critically ill and her organs began to fail. She died three days later from blood poisoning. Her husband and activists say she could have been saved had the fetus been removed sooner.

Halappanavar's husband Praveen, took her body back to India for a Hindu funeral service and cremation on Nov. 3 but is likely to return to his job as a medical devices engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, according to the newswire.

The government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny is waiting for the findings of two investigations into the Indian woman's death – one by the hospital and one by Ireland's Health Service Executive – before taking any action.

Doctors say they fear being targeted by lawsuits or protests – or even charged with murder – if they perform an abortion to safeguard a pregnant woman's life.

Praveen has said the hospital turned down their request for abortion because Ireland is a Catholic country. 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."

Meanwhile, members of the Indian community in Galway organized on Saturday morning a ceremony outside University Hospital Galway, where they lay white roses under a photograph of Halappanavar.

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