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Failures in care of Indian woman denied abortion in Ireland, inquest hears

Praveen Halappanavar, the husband of Savita Halappanavar arrives for the inquest into her death at Galway Coroners court. in Ga;way Ireland Monday April 8, 2013. Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21 last year and died a week later from suspected septicaemia, days after she lost her baby. The 31-year-old's widower Praveen maintains the couple repeatedly requested a termination but were refused because the foetal heartbeat was present.

Niall Carson/AP

There were medical failures in the treatment of a pregnant woman who died in an Irish hospital last year after being refused an abortion, a coroner's inquest has heard.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, pleaded for an abortion after it became clear that her pregnancy wasn't viable, but she was denied because Ireland "is a Catholic country," her husband says. She eventually miscarried and died several days later.

The case fuelled anew the abortion debate in Ireland and sparked outrage in India, where the couple previously lived.

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Dr. Katherine Astbury, an obstetrician who treated Ms. Halappanavar, told the inquest this week said there were problems with her care, saying she was unaware of blood test abnormalities and that her vitals should have been monitored more closely, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported.

But Dr. Astbury denied referring to religion when telling Ms. Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, that she could not have an abortion because the fetus still had a heartbeat, the newspaper reported. In Ireland, it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy unless there is a substantial risk to the mother's life.

However, Dr. Astbury also told the inquest that she had changed her mind and intended to perform an abortion because of the threat to Ms. Halappanavar's life, media reported. However, she miscarried soon afterward.

Ms. Halappanavar was admitted to University Hospital Galway in western Ireland on Oct. 21 after complaining of back pains. She was told she would miscarry within hours, but did not lose the fetus until Oct. 24. She died on Oct. 28 of a heart attack caused by blood poisoning.

The inquest, which began hearing from witnesses on Monday, is trying to determine whether Ms. Halappanavar died because her miscarrying fetus was not aborted.

Her husband, Praveen, said told the Irish Times last year that she asked several times for an abortion but was refused. "The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: 'I am neither Irish nor Catholic' but they said there was nothing they could do."

After her death, thousands of people held a candlelit vigil outside Ireland's parliament demanding reforms to Ireland's restrictive abortion laws. Several top maternal care experts also said they long had feared that a death like Ms. Halappanavar's would happen because Irish law on abortion makes them fearful of taking action on borderline cases.

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In the wake of public outrage, Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said in November that the government would act "to bring legal clarity to this issue as quickly as possible."

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