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Woman's death puts abortion law in spotlight

The death in Galway of a woman whose repeated requests for an abortion were turned down – after she was reportedly told "this is a Catholic country" – has sparked an international outcry and calls for Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws to be reformed.

Last night more than 1,000 people staged a demonstration outside the Irish parliament, with more protesters gathering outside the Irish embassy in London, amid calls for an independent inquiry into the death.

Savita Halappanavar, a dentist of Indian origin, died in a hospital in Galway last month from complications when a termination of her pregnancy was delayed after she had been miscarrying for several days. She was 31.

In a series of poignant radio interviews her husband, Praveen, said he had no doubt his wife would be alive if the procedure had been carried out earlier, as she had requested.

The case has drawn attention in the starkest and most tragic way to the state of Ireland's anti-abortion laws, which are notoriously unclear.

Speaking from India, Mr Halappanavar said his wife had originally gone to Galway University hospital with back pains. She asked for a termination of her 17-week pregnancy because she was in agony, but this was refused. He added: "A doctor said it was the law – that this is a Catholic country. Savita said, 'I am neither Irish not Catholic' but they said there was nothing they could do."

The health minister, Dr James Reilly, told the Dublin parliament yesterday: "If it becomes apparent – and I can't say with any certainty one way or the other although I doubt it – that there was any hesitation here because of moral or religious beliefs, then that would be an extremely serious matter."

The Government, which has been considering changes to the legislation, said two internal investigations were being held into the death of Mrs Halappanavar, but it is resisting calls for an independent inquiry.