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United Nations watchdog expresses concerns following Savita death

A UNITED Nations (UN) watchdog has raised particular concerns about the welfare of women in Ireland since the death of a woman after she miscarried.

Anand Grover said abortion should be legal if a pregnancy is adversely impacting on a woman's health, and not just her life.

Arguing that the life of a mother is much more important than the right of the unborn, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health also accused countries that criminalise abortion of discriminating against woman, particularly the marginalised, poor and minorities.

"You cannot limit availability and accessibility of health services, goods and facilities only on the basis of life exception," said Mr Grover speaking on the grounds for terminations.

"If it impacts adversely on the woman's health or the right to health, that should be a ground."

The Cabinet is due to decide tomorrow on whether it will introduce legislation, or a combination of legislation and regulation, to reform the country's limited ban on abortion in the new year.

Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died at Galway University Hospital on October 28, 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She suffered septicaemia following her miscarriage.

The dead woman's husband Praveen claims doctors refused to carry out an abortion because a foetal heartbeat was present. He says they were told Ireland "is a Catholic country".

A statutory inquiry and an HSE clinical inquiry in to the death of the 31-year-old are continuing.

Mr Grover, a lawyer, was in Dublin to give a keynote address at a conference and not in his official role.

But he said he has already had discussions with Government officials in Ireland over the abortion controversy.

"I am concerned about women's situation all over the world, particularly in Ireland, because of the Indian woman who died," he said.

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"It had an impact in India and actually made me look in this issue slightly more in detail, so I'm concerned about it."

Mr Grover maintained if treated in India, Ms Halappanavar would never have died, as the law allows a woman to access reproductive and health services, including abortion, on the basis of adverse impact on her health.

Mr Grover spoke out at Realising Women's Right to Health, a conference organised by the Women's Human Rights Alliance (WHRA) and the National Women's Council of Ireland to mark the second anniversary of the A,B and C v Ireland judgment.

He maintained criminal laws and other legal restrictions on sexual and reproductive health interfere with human dignity and disempower women, who may be deterred from taking steps to protect their health, in order to avoid liability and out of fear of stigmatisation.

"As a result, women and girls are punished both when they abide by these laws, and are thus subjected to poor physical and mental health outcomes, and when they do not, and thus face incarceration," he added.

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