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News » International

Inquest rules Indian woman died of 'misadventure'

Savita Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital after abortion was denied

Mike MacLachlan, London International

April 22, 2013

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Irish abortion laws came under scrutiny at the weekend after the inquest verdict on an Indian dentist who died in hospital after being denied a termination.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, originally from Karnataka, died of medical misadventure, a jury ruled unanimously.

Her husband, Paraveen Halappanavar, told a leading newspaper, The Irish Times, that he hoped the verdict would hasten legislation ensuring that no woman would die in such circumstances again. 

The newspaper further noted that the Irish government was likely to come under increased pressure to legislate on abortion after evidence that she would have lived if her pregnancy had been terminated. 

But anti-abortion groups welcomed the coroner’s recommendation that the country’s medical council “should lay out exactly when a doctor can intervene to save the life of a mother” – in other words, that it is a medical issue rather than a legal one.

A spokeswoman for the Pro-life Campaign said guidelines to provide clarity for doctors “may result in the unintended loss of the baby.”

She said the case had been used by those seeking legalisation of abortion in a way that was “little short of shameless” and offered sympathy to Praveen Halappanavar.

Halappanavar was also praised by the coroner after the inquest ended on Friday. “You showed tremendous loyalty and love to your wife,” he said.

Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to University Hospital in Galway last October and died a week later from blood poisoning.

Her husband says doctors refused an abortion on the grounds that “this is a Catholic country” though a consultant denied in evidence that she had said this.

Halappanavar maintains that his wife would be alive today if her pregnancy had been terminated. He said after the inquest that he was “still optimistic” that the law would change.

“The question that has always been in my mind is why Savita died. It has been very tough,” he told reporters.

“Today [Friday] was actually our wedding anniversary so it’s even more hard. Hopefully there will be bright days ahead and something good will come.”

He described his wife as having been overjoyed at the prospect of a child. The couple, part of a 3,000-strong Indian community in Galway, were “living the dream,” he said.

He still had no clarity on why his wife had died, he said, and he owed it to her and her family to pursue the truth. The treatment she received was “horrendous.”

He would now “sit back and consider the next step.”

The Press Trust of India reported on Saturday that he was planning to pursue the case through the European Court of Human Rights.

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