* New probe into death of Indian woman denied termination
* Husband rejects health service investigation
* Government faces criticism over handling of incident
By Lorraine Turner and Conor Humphries
DUBLIN, Nov 23 Ireland has opened a new
investigation into the death of a woman denied an abortion of
her dying foetus, as the government scrambled to stem criticism
of its handling of an incident that polarised the overwhelmingly
Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year old dentist, was admitted to
hospital in severe pain on Oct. 21 and asked for a termination
after doctors said her baby would not survive, according to
husband Praveen, but in a country with some of the world's most
restrictive abortion laws, surgeons would not remove the foetus
until its heartbeat stopped days later.
Husband Praveen Halappanavar, who believes the delay
contributed to the blood poisoning that killed his wife on Oct.
28, has said he would not cooperate with an investigation
already launched by the country's health service because he did
not believe it would be neutral.
On Friday, the Health Information and Quality Authority
(HIQA) watchdog, which is government-funded but independent of
the state health service, said it had also launched an
investigation after receiving information from the health
service and University Hospital Galway, where Halappanavar died.
A solicitor acting on behalf of the husband said the new
inquiry was unlikely to be enough to satisfy his client.
"My client has always made his position very clear ... He
wants a public inquiry. He has made it clear he wants to get to
the truth of the matter, so I don't think that the framework of
HIQA will suffice," Gerard O'Donnell, told RTE radio.
He added that the next step would be to consider an
application to the European Court of Human Rights, which
criticised Ireland's abortion ban in 2010.
Halappanavar's death has reopened a decades-long debate over
whether the government should legislate to explicitly allow
abortion when the life of the mother is at risk.
Irish law does not specify exactly when the threat to the
life of the mother is high enough to justify a termination,
leaving doctors to decide. Critics say this means doctors'
personal beliefs can play a role.
Though the influence of the Catholic Church over Irish
politics has waned since the 1980s, successive governments have
been loath to legislate on an issue they fear could alienate
CALL TO CLARIFY
Ireland's abortion stance is enshrined in a 1983
constitutional amendment that intended to ban abortion in all
circumstances. In 1992, when challenged in the "X-case"
involving a 14-year-old rape victim, the Supreme Court ruled
that abortion was permitted when the woman's life was at risk,
including from suicide.
But successive governments refused to make clear the
circumstances under which a threat would make an abortion legal.
After several challenges, the European Court of Human Rights
ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify its position.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose ruling Fine Gael party made
an election pledge not to introduce new laws allowing abortion,
said last week he would not be rushed into a decision on the
The government was forced into an embarrassing u-turn this
week when it removed three Galway-based consultants from the
health service inquiry following criticism from Praveen
The issue has raised tensions between Fine Gael and the more
socially liberal Labour Party, its junior coalition partner,
which has campaigned for a clarification of the country's
The country's president, Michael D. Higgins, a former member
of the Labour Party, weighed into the debate this week when he
said an investigation was needed that satisfied the dead woman's
Opposition party Sinn Fein introduced a motion to parliament
on Wednesday calling for parliament to legislate on abortion,
but it was rejected.
"Successive governments over the past 20 years have failed
in respect of legislation. That failure is in large measure due
to fear or cowardice," said Mary Lou McDonald, vice president of