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Pro-choice activists got tip-off on tragic death

Campaigners had heard of Savita's death three days before story broke

Abortion campaigners, including two left-wing political researchers in Leinster House, were aware of the Savita Halappanavar case at least three days before her death became public knowledge.

Pro-choice activists held an emergency meeting last Monday night in Dublin city centre to plan how they would proceed after the details emerged publicly about the death at University Hospital Galway of 31-year-old Mrs Halappanavar, whose death is now the subject of two separate investigations.

Emails seen by the Sunday Independent, from a Google discussion group used by members of the Irish Choice Network (ICN) – an organisation set up to link pro-choice individuals and groups – show they were aware last Sunday, and probably earlier, that a "denial of abortion" story was about to break.

That was three days before the story broke on Wednesday.

The ICN web discussion was sparked by a member, Andrew B, who wrote: "Hi all, there are rumours that a major news story related to denial of abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week. I don't want to put anything more in an email as the information I have is both fragmentary and complex but I have talked to a few people, some of whom have heard similar details.

"Because of the complexity of the situation it's not obvious how best to proceed so we are calling an emergency meeting of ICN (if that is what we are called, I'm not sure after last Sat) for tomorrow in Seomra Spraoi. We hope by then to have more definite information around which we can make some collective decisions about how to proceed. Apologies if this is all a little mysterious but the reason why I didn't want to put specific details down by email will probably be clear tomorrow.

"I'm sending this out to the list of people who received the planning documents for the Saturday meeting and I'll also post it on the internal forum."

Seomra Spraoi is a small social centre located just off Gardiner Street in Dublin.

Among those who responded to that email was Alison Spillane – co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network and a political researcher in the Oireachtas, currently working in the Leinster House office of Deputy Mick Wallace.

In her responding email post on Monday, she wrote: "Thanks for this Andrew – have also heard rumours but details are scant. I can't make this evening's meeting unfortunately but would really appreciate it if notes on any decisions taken could be circulated by email. Have also seen that a protest has been called for this Wednesday at 6pm outside the Dail. I'm sure I'll see some of you there."

When contacted by the Sunday Independent at Mr Wallace's office in Leinster House, Ms Spillane said: "I am not going to give a comment I'm afraid."

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Another member of the ICN Google discussion group who responded to Andrew B's email was Stephanie Lord, a political advisor to Sinn Fein who works out of the Leinster House office of Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn, the Sinn Fein spokesman on Justice Equality and Defence.

Ms Lord, a barrister, was also political advisor to Sinn Fein on the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and is a former policy officer with the party based at their Parnell Square headquarters.

Calls to Ms Lord at Leinster House were not returned.

According to the anti- abortion group The Life Institute, the postings on the ICN Google discussion group suggest that abortion campaigners were given prior knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs Halappanavar.

Spokeswoman for the Life Institute Niamh Ui Bhriain said it was clear that abortion advocates knew about the death of Mrs Halappanavar, which she said they "most distastefully described as a 'major news story'".

She said serious questions now needed to be asked.

"The tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar's life should not be exploited by campaigners. The media and the HSE now needs to ask why this information seems to have been given in advance to abortion advocates," she asked. "Was it given to them by the Irish Times who only broke the news days later, or by someone in the HSE? If so, why?" she asked.

"As we await the investigation into what happened in Galway University Hospital, we need to know if this private patient information was given to campaigners for legalised abortion in Ireland.

"And the very obvious and wholly distasteful desire of abortion advocates to use this story to further their own agenda has now been exposed by this email," said Ms Ui Bhriain.

However, later in an email response to the Sunday Independent, the ICN said: "Members of the Indian community got in touch with pro-choice groups following Savita's death."

They declined to give any further details.

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