Sort out guidance over abortion, pleads doctor

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ONE of Northern Ireland’s leading doctors has called on politicians to get a guidance document on abortion “sorted out”.

The call came after two investigations got under way into the death of Indian woman Savita Halappanavar on October 28 in Galway University Hospital.

Mrs Halappanavar, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia. Her husband Praveen has alleged that doctors refused several requests for a medical termination because the foetus’s heartbeat was present. He also claimed the couple were told: “This is a Catholic country.”

News of her death led to a series of protests against Ireland’s abortion laws by pro-choice campaigners. However pro-life campaigners have urged people not to jump to conclusions about the cause of her death until investigations are complete.

The Republic allows an abortion if a woman’s life is at risk, as does the law in Northern Ireland. However the legalities of such actions are hotly debated.

Professor Jim Dornan, who sits on the global health board of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said yesterday that the current legislation on when a termination could be carried out in Northern Ireland was confusing.

“We would like to feel that our Department of Health and our paymasters – our political masters – and our legal masters are supportive of us,” he told the BBC.

“We need to have that guidance because we have been working on a guidance document that is sitting in an in-tray somewhere and we would love to see it coming out.

“I appreciate there are problems, but let’s address those problems and get it sorted out.”

Meanwhile, yesterday Ireland’s ambassador to India was attempting to ease concerns in the Republic over the death. Feilim McLaughlin was briefing government and opposition figures in New Delhi as two investigations got under way into Mrs Halappanavar’s death.

Officials in diplomatic circles in Dublin said meetings were planned with politicians of all creeds in an effort to indicate the exact position on abortion in the Republic “in light of strong headlines”.

The India Times reported the death of Mrs Halappanavar as “Ireland murders pregnant Indian dentist”.

In Dublin, Indian ambassador Debashish Chakravarti was brought in to meet officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“There have been contacts with Indian authorities,” a foreign affairs spokesman said.

Junior minister Brian Hayes said he accepted that Ireland has suffered reputational damage as a result of Mrs Halappanavar’s death.

Two inquiries into the death are under way – one by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group, due to report in three months, and a second Health Service Executive (HSE) investigation involving an independent expert in obstetrics and gynaecology from Northern Ireland.

A coroner’s report will also be handed over to the Irish government.