Pro-life campaigners protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast October 18, 2012. The first private clinic offering abortions opened in Northern Ireland on Thursday, making access to abortion much easier for women in both Northern Ireland and the
Pro-life campaigners protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast  The first private clinic offering abortions makes access to abortion much easier for women in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (Reuters)

Two investigations are under way following the death of a miscarrying pregnant woman who was refused an abortion at an Irish Hospital.

Savita Halappanavar, who was 17-weeks pregnant, arrived at the University Hospital Galway on 21 October complaining of back pain. She was then found to be miscarrying and died of septicaemia a week later.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, reportedly asked several times over a three day period for a medical termination as the 31-year-old was in severe pain.

He says their request was refused because a foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told: "This is a Catholic country".

Doctors told the 31-year-old dentist that there was no chance the foetus would survive, but the ordeal would be over in a matter of hours.

Miss Halappanavar then spent a further two and a half days "in agony" before doctors removed the dead foetus from her after the heartbeat stopped. She was then taken to a high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28 October.

Abortions are illegal in Ireland, unless the life of the woman is in danger.

Ireland's health service executive has confirmed it is investigating the incident, while the hospital itself will operate an internal investigation.

A post mortem has been carried out and the coroner has been informed.

In a statement, the Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group extended its sympathy to Halappanavar's family and said it will co-operate fully with the coroner's inquest.

It added: "The review has not yet started as the hospital is waiting to consult with the family of the deceased on the terms of reference.

"In general in relation to media enquiries about issues where there may be onward legal action, we must reserve our position on what action we may take if assertions about a patient's care are published and we cannot speak for individual doctors or other medical professionals if a report were to name or identify any."

Rachel Donnelly, a spokesperson for the Galway Pro-Choice group said: "This was an obstetric emergency which should have been dealt with in a routine manner.

"Yet Irish doctors are restrained from making obvious medical decisions by a fear of potentially severe consequences.

"As the European Court of Human Rights ruled, as long as the 1861 Act remains in place, alongside a complete political unwillingness to touch the issue, pregnant women will continue to be unsafe in this country."

Sarah McCarthy, a Galway Pro-Choice member, added: "Galway Pro-Choice believes that Ireland must legislate for freely available abortion for all women.

"Deaths like Savita's are the most severe consequence of the criminalisation of abortion, yet it has countless adverse effects.

"We must reflect long and hard on the implications of Savita's tragic and untimely passing, and we must act to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again."