Abortion row: India summons Irish envoy, tells him New Delhi should be kept informed

Abortion row: India summons Irish envoy, tells him New Delhi should be kept informed
New Delhi: Ireland's envoy to India was summoned today to formally raise New Delhi's concerns over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in a hospital there from blood poisoning after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy.

During his meeting with Irish ambassador Feilim McLaughlin, M Ganapathi, secretary (west) in the external affairs ministry, stressed that people in India were unhappy that "a young life had come to an untimely end".

"I think saving the life of the mother is of prime importance, if you can't save the life of the child," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had said earlier in the day.

The Irish health authority (HSE) has launched an inquiry which the Health Minister said must "stand up to the scrutiny of the world." In his meeting with the Irish envoy today, Mr Ganapathi also reportedly expressed hope that the inquiry into the incident would be independent and that the Indian ambassador in Dublin would be kept informed of its progress and outcomes.

The Irish ambassador assured fullest cooperation. He also indicated that the terms of reference for the inquiry are being framed and would be released shortly.

Savita, 31, died late last month of septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She was admitted to hospital in severe pain on October 21 and asked for a termination after doctors told her the baby would not survive, according to her husband Praveen.

The foetus was surgically removed when its heartbeat stopped days later, but her family believes the delay contributed to the blood poisoning that killed her on October 28.

The Indian couple were resident and working in Ireland, he as an engineer and she as a dentist. Yesterday, Praveen told NDTV on the phone that no one from the Indian embassy had got in touch with him or his family. Ireland too had committed to a thorough investigation into the death.

Ireland's government pledged on Thursday to clarify its abortion laws; thousands took to the streets to protest on Wednesday after news broke of 31-year-old Savita's death.

Activists in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, which has some of the world's most restrictive laws on abortion, say the refusal by doctors to terminate the pregnancy earlier may have contributed to her death.

"I was deeply disturbed yesterday by what Savita's husband said. I don't think as a country we should allow a situation where women's rights are put at risk in this way," Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore told parliament on Thursday.

"There is no question of equivocation. We need to bring legal clarity to this issue and that is what we are going to do."

Irish law does not specify under what circumstances the threat to the life or health of the mother is high enough to justify a termination, leaving doctors to decide. Critics say this means doctors' personal beliefs can play a role.

(With inputs from agencies)