About 100 opposition protesters held a demonstration outside the Irish embassy in New Delhi, India, on Friday over the death of an Indian woman who died on Oct. 28 after being refused an abortion in the Catholic country.
The crowd, carrying posters of the dead 31-year-old dentist, Savita Halappanavar, and accusing Irish authorities of committing “medical murder,” were stopped by police from getting close to the embassy.
The dentist repeatedly asked staff at University Hospital in Galway, west Ireland, to terminate her pregnancy because she was miscarrying, her family said.
Doctors allegedly refused her demand, telling her: “This is a Catholic country.”
Abortion is illegal in Roman Catholic-dominated Ireland except when it is necessary to save the life of the mother.
Smriti Irani, president of the women’s wing of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, was among the protesters outside the embassy and she was allowed in as part of a four-person delegation to meet the Irish ambassador.
“The Irish ambassador assured us that there could be a possibility of inviting international experts to be part of the investigation and we told him that Savita’s husband should also be part of it,” Irani said.
“The ambassador acknowledged that there is intense pressure [on Ireland] not only from the people of India, but globally, over Halappanavar’s death,” Irani told reporters amid shouts of “we want justice.”
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has described the death as a “tragedy,” while two separate investigations have been announced.
Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid expressed regret over her death, saying: “It is extremely sad and unfortunate. Whatever the inquiry does, human loss cannot be compensated.”
Indian Communist Party leader Brinda Karat said not treating Halappanavar’s condition as a medical emergency was a “crime.”
Ireland’s abortion laws have been the subject of debate for years. Under a 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling, women in Ireland are legally entitled to an abortion when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. Yet legislation has never been passed to reflect this.
In India, a maternal death occurs every 10 minutes, UN data show, with the country accounting for about 20 percent of deaths worldwide of women who die during or shortly after childbirth.
Hundreds of Irish women, including dozens who have been raped, have life-threatening illnesses or are under the age of 16, have been forced to seek abortions in Britain in the past three years, a pro-choice charity said on Friday.
As campaigners prepared for a rally in Dublin yesterday to protest against the death of Halappanavar, the Abortion Support Network gave an insight into the pressures facing women in Ireland with unwanted pregnancies.
The charity, which issues grants to Irish women seeking terminations, said it had helped 335 women from the Irish Republic to obtain abortions in England over the past three years.
Additional reporting by the Guardian