After Pregnant Woman’s Death, Protesters Rally Against Irish Abortion Law

The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who died at a hospital after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy, is attracting worldwide attention, concern--and anger

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Peter Morrison / AP

Hanna Graham joins a protest candle lit vigil for Savita Halappanavar outside Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland, Nov. 15, 2012.

During the agony Savita Halappanavar endured before her death, she made her husband promise not to reveal to her family that she was ill. The mass-market English-language paper, the Times of India reported that her parents, Andanappa and Akkamahadevi Yalagi, received the shattering news a few days after she diedHalappanavar’s father described his daughter as a “bold and intelligent woman with big dreams.”

(MORE: Ireland Abortion Scandal: Death of a Pregnant Woman Prompts Soul-Searching)

It took another two weeks after Halappanavar died for her story to reach the wider public. The cause of death on Oct. 28 was blood poisoning and an infection known as E.coli ESBL following a miscarriage in a hospital in the Irish city of Galway. But since the publication on Nov. 14 of an interview with her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, her case is attracting worldwide attention, concern–and anger. He told the Irish Times that his wife, who was 17 weeks pregnant and complaining of back pain, had arrived at University Hospital Galway where she was warned she was miscarrying her child. It would be another three days before the fetus’ heart stopped beating and doctors agreed to a procedure to remove it from the womb, he said, adding that during these three days, he and his wife asked on numerous occasions if doctors could terminate the pregnancy. He said that the hospital refused, saying that their hands were tied due to the ambiguous nature of abortion legislation in Ireland. Following the extraction procedure, his wife deteriorated quickly and died a week after arriving at the hospital.

While the hashtag Savita continues to trend across Twitter, protestors in Dublin are preparing for a candle-lit vigil to be held in the city centre on Nov. 17. Organizers predict that they will be joined by thousands holding vigils across Ireland, the U.K. and Belgium. A protest is planned  in New York on Monday. Demonstrators took to the streets of New Delhi and Bangalore on Nov. 16.

(MORE: Ireland’s Abortion Debate Heats Up)

Two inquiries into the death are being carried out by the hospital and by the HSE, the Irish Health Service Executive. Meanwhile, an expert report on recommendations for Irish abortion legislation has been presented to the Irish parliament. A spokesman for the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, told TIME that “the Government has established a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding [Savita’s] death. The findings of that investigation will be made known to Government as soon as it is completed.”

Rapid responses have not been a feature of Ireland’s long abortion debate. For 20 years Irish governments have delayed legislation that would have clarified abortion law. Savita Halappanavar’s case may prove a turning point.

That is a hope that remains for her family. Her mother told the Times of India she believes her daughter will only attain “moksha” [the end of death and rebirth cycle in Hinduism] after the Irish authorities clarify existing legislation on abortion. “Everybody should force the Ireland government to amend its laws,” she said. Savita’s widower told journalists that although he has decided not to pursue legal action, he intends to lobby the Irish government to permit abortions if a mother’s life is at risk.

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