Ireland to legalise abortion when motherís life at risk

Ireland on Tuesday announced it will legalise abortions when the mother's life is at risk, weeks after the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar who died after being refused an abortion in the European country.

The move, unthinkable till few years ago, comes after a huge public outcry over the death of 31-year-old Savita, who died in October at Galway University Hospital. She had been 17-week pregnant and was found to be miscarrying.

Savita's husband said she asked repeatedly for a termination of the pregnancy but was refused and was told the foetal heartbeat was still present and "this is a Catholic country". She contracted septicaemia and died on October 28.

Irish Prime minister Enda Kenny, who represents one of the most traditional rural Catholic constituencies in Ireland, said the Fine Gael-Labour coalition would proceed with a mixture of "legislation with regulation".

To ensure the law is passed the government whip would be applied to MPs in the ruling Fine Gael party which is deeply divided over the proposals.

"There will be no free vote on this," Kenny said, adding that the draft legislation would be published in the New Year with a timetable of having the legislation ready by Easter.

Ireland's abortion laws are the strictest in Europe and any proposed legislation to decriminalise abortion will stoke furious debate in the country, which remains a staunchly Roman Catholic country.

The Irish cabinet's decision follows pressure from the European Court of human rights, which ruled that abortions should be allowed in cases where a woman's life was at risk.

Last month, Savita's husband Praveen Halappanavar had said he will move the European Court of Human Rights for justice.

Savita's case is now being investigated by the Irish health authorities.

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