Ireland abortion row: Savita Halappanavar inquest opens, husband to give account

Ireland abortion row: Savita Halappanavar inquest opens, husband to give account

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London:  An inquest opened on Monday into the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar who was reportedly denied an abortion in Ireland for her miscarrying foetus.

The death of Savita Halappanavar, 31, at University Hospital Galway on October 28 last year prompted anger in India and sparked demands for Ireland to introduce new abortion laws.

Savita, hailing from Karnataka, died from blood poisoning after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy, telling her that the foetal heartbeat was still present and "this is a Catholic country".

The husband of Savita, Praveen Halappanavar was listed among the first four witnesses to give his evidence to Coroner Ciaran McLoughlin and a jury of six men and five women.

"He is determined to give his statement in person rather than simply having it read into the record. It will be trying.

It is always upsetting for him to go through all the events again, but I know he feels he owes it to Savita to be heard personally and to give a true and real account of what unfolded that week at Galway University Hospital," his solicitor Gerard O'Donnell said.

The first witness to take the stand was Dr Helen Howley who saw Savita at her practice in Doughiska, Galway.

Howley said at the 12-week check-up "Savita was as healthy and strong as she could be" and that she and her husband Praveen "were full of the joys and excited about the pregnancy", the 'Irish Times' reported.

The inquest will then hear from the Irish police and a pathologist involved in identifying her after her death.

The main consultant involved in Savita Halappanavar's care is likely to give her evidence on Tuesday.

Among others called will be midwives, a microbiologist and members of the hospital's intensive-care team.

Savita's husband and his solicitor O'Donnell had a four-hour meeting on Sunday with their full legal team in preparation for the inquest, scheduled for a week but likely to continue into next week with the basic remit to establish a cause of death taking into account the circumstances leading up to it.

The coroner is to hear from 16 witnesses involved in Halappanavar's treatment as well as from his own five expert witnesses, which include a former master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dr Peter Boylan.

The care provided at the hospital will come under sharp focus, including the fact that Savita's fatal shivers may have been attributed to the cold rather than a life threatening infection.

Praveen Halappanavar will be represented by Eugene Gleeson SC and John O'Donnell during the hearing.

His team is not calling expert witnesses although it has commissioned an expert report by London-based obstetrician-gynaecologist, Roger Varley Clements, which it will use for its own guidance.

The final draft of an unpublished Health Service Executive (HSE) report into his wife's death presented to him last month had found there was an "overemphasis" on the foetus and an "underemphasis" on Savita's deteriorating health.

The case had triggered worldwide outrage and re-ignited calls to re-define Ireland's confusing anti-abortion laws, which demands that doctors treat an expectant mother and her unborn baby as equals.

This constitutional protection for the unborn child places a ban on abortion, but allows medical intervention to save the life of a woman in limited circumstances.

Abortion has been legal in cases where there is a substantial risk to the mother's life since a 1992 Supreme Court ruling but successive governments have failed to enact legislation to give the ruling full effect.

The Irish government has been conducting a review and is committed to legislate and introduce regulations to allow abortion if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life, including the threat of suicide, by July this year.

Story First Published: April 08, 2013 18:10 IST

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