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Thousands rally in Ireland after woman denied abortion dies

Nov. 14, 2012 11:48 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 14, 2012 11:48 P.M.)
DUBLIN (Reuters) -- Thousands of people rallied outside Ireland's parliament on Wednesday to demand strict abortion rules be eased after a pregnant Indian woman repeatedly denied a termination died in an Irish hospital.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, admitted to University Hospital Galway in the west of Ireland last month, died of septicaemia a week after miscarrying 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her repeated requests for termination were rejected because of the presence of a foetal heartbeat, her husband told state broadcaster RTE.

Abortion remains an extremely divisive issue in Ireland, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country which has some of the world's most restrictive laws on medical terminations.

Despite a dramatic waning of the influence of the Catholic Church, which dominated politics in the country until the 1980s, successive governments have been loathe to legislate on an issue they fear could alienate conservative voters.

After several challenges, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify its position.

At least 2,000 people gathered for a candle-lit vigil to demand that the government legislate to close a legal loophole that leaves it unclear when the threat to the life of a pregnant woman provides legal justification for an abortion.

"My reaction was outrage. Shame that this happened in my country," protester Emer McNally, 33, and six months pregnant, said. "It's scary to think that medical treatment was denied."

The news of Halappanavar's death overnight sparked a wave of anger on Irish social media, with more than 50,000 people sharing the Irish Times's lead story on the issue on Wednesday.

The organisers of the Dublin protest said they expected a much larger crowd at a weekend demonstration and called on people to protest at Irish embassies around the world.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose party has been criticised for delays in introducing legislation to define in what circumstances abortion should be allowed, offered condolences to the woman's family, but said he could not comment further until an investigation into the death.
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