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Woman's death sparks new Irish debate on abortion law

Catholic World News - November 14, 2012

Ireland’s government is under renewed pressure to end the country’s ban on elective abortion, after a pregnant woman died after doctors apparently declined to perform an abortion.

Savita Halappanavar died of septicemia, after her pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She had been hospitalized earlier, and doctors recognized that she was suffering a miscarriage. But according to her husband the doctors refused to perform an abortion because the baby’s heartbeat was still discernible. The hospital has declined to discuss the case, citing patient-confidentiality rules.

Advocates of legal abortion have seized on the case, saying that the doctors refused to perform an abortion in a case when it was medically necessary because they were Catholics. But Ireland’s health minister, James Reilly, has said that there is no evidence that religion played a role in the doctors’ decision. Reilly has asked the public to withhold judgment until the case can be thoroughly investigated.

Media reports on the case have betrayed some confusion, because Irish law allows for abortion if the mother’s life is endangered by the pregnancy. If Savita Halappanavar had actually miscarried before she was originally hospitalized, the question of abortion would have been moot, since the miscarriage would already have ended the pregnancy.

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