Doctors and protesters join growing clamour for a change in the abortion law

 

Galway

Irish abortion laws have become “like a sword of Damocles” hanging over doctors because there are grey areas where they were left at risk of committing a criminal offence, according to the leading consultant obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan.

"Politicians need to act," he said yesterday. "We need to start acting like an adult state and get on with it."

Judging from the streets, the airwaves and the internet, almost the entire country seemed to be seething about the treatment of Savita Halappanavar, the Indian dentist who died after she was refused a termination of her pregnancy.

On Eyre Square in Galway, the anger was palpable. Several women actually shook with anger as they spoke of the fate of Mrs Halappanavar. A typical response came from retired African aid worker Paud Murphy, who said: "It's awful, it's a disaster. I just feel very upset about it, as an awful lot of people do. We have to legislate so that it never happens again."

A vigil is to be held in the square tomorrow night. Some blame the medical profession but most anger was focused on the politicians who, it was widely said, had for two decades run away from clarifying abortion law.

Outside the Dail in Dublin on Wednesday night one of the protesters held a placard bearing the words: "Savita had a heartbeat too."

There remains a substantial minority resistant to change, including Rebecca Roughneen, a 27-year-old graphic designer and an organiser of the anti-abortion group Mayo Youth Defence. When she heard of the death, she said, "I thought it was horrific – really, really tragic. My heart went out to that family." But she added: "Nobody's really sure why she died, and I'd be afraid of the pro-abortion people using this to further their own agenda."

Earlier this month, an anti-abortion rally called by her group attracted several thousand people to Castlebar, home town of the Prime Minister, Enda Kenny. While much of the power of the Irish Catholic Church has ebbed, Ms Roughneen's group boasts it has been called "the cutting edge of the pro-life movement." It maintains: "We know that abortion is always wrong."

Attempts to change the law are sure to meet resistance. But opposition to abortion has faded and the Halappanavar case has roused public anger. Government minister Brian Hayes, admitted the issue has "festered away for many years". There was a resolve in the cabinet, he said, that "action in some shape or form will follow".

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