Irish abortion march draws thousands

Last updated 15:00 18/11/2012
Dublin, Ireland
A woman in Dublin holds a poster during a vigil in memory of Savita Halappanavar and in support of changes to abortion law.

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About 10,000 people marched through Dublin and observed a minute's silence in memory of the Indian dentist who died of blood poisoning in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion.

Marchers, many of them mothers and daughters walking side by side, chanted "Never again!" and held pictures of Savita Halappanavar as they paraded across the city to stage a night-time candlelit vigil outside the office of Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Saturday.

The 31-year-old, who was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, died on October 28 one week after being hospitalised with severe pain at the start of a miscarriage. Her death, made public by her husband this week, has highlighted Ireland's long struggle to come to grips with abortion.

Doctors refused her requests to remove the foetus until its heartbeat stopped four days after her hospitalisation. Hours later she became critically ill and her organs began to fail. She died three days later from blood poisoning. Her widower and activists say she could have survived, and the spread of infection been stopped, had the foetus been removed sooner.

The case illustrates a 20-year-old confusion in abortion law in Ireland, where the practice is outlawed in the constitution. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling decreed that abortions should be legal to save the life of the woman, including if she makes credible threats to commit suicide if denied one. But successive governments have refused to pass legislation spelling out the rules governing that general principle, leaving the decision up to individual doctors in an environment of secrecy.

Kenny's government says it needs to await the findings of two investigations into Halappanavar's death before taking any action. It has declined to say if it will pass legislation to make the 1992 judgement the clear-cut, detailed law of the land. Many 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.

Speakers from socialist parties, women's groups and abortion rights activists addressed Saturday's crowd from atop a flat-bed truck. They decried the fact that two decades had passed without any political decision to define when hospitals could, and could not, perform abortions.

"Twenty years is far too long. Ignoring women's rights is wrong!" the crowd chanted.

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About 1,000 people staged a more prayer-oriented rally in the western city of Galway, where the Halappavanars settled in 2008. Some placed candles spelling SAVITA on the pavement in Galway's central Eyre Square.

- AP

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