Praveen Halapanavar is to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights - saying his right to a full public inquiry is being ignored.

The family of Savita Halappanavar’s had earlier warned the Governement they would make such an application if they didn't agree to a full public inquiry into the circumstances of her death by today.

Separate inquiries by the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority are to proceed.

Gerard O'Donnell is the solicitor for Mr Halappanavar:

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THE expert group has confirmed the obvious. Legislation with regulations represents the best way to implement the European Court of Human Rights ABC judgment. It is "constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound". Primary legislation would provide for the drafting of regulations to deal with detailed matters such as changing medical practices. The legislation would also repeal or amend the 1861 Act which criminalises abortion in this country.

The report helpfully sets out a blueprint for Government as to the content of legislation to clarify the X case test. It addresses key issues, including the specific risk of suicide, by saying a psychiatrist could be required to assess this. As Minister for Justice Alan Shatter confirmed yesterday, it would be legally impossible to legislate without including suicide risk. The X case test was confirmed by the people in two referendums in 1992 and 2002. You can't legislate for a bit of that test – it would be like being 'a bit' pregnant.

Despite this, anti-abortion activists have argued against legislating for suicide risk. They say it will lead to 'abortion on demand'. This is legally wrong. The Supreme Court test for 'real and substantial risk to life' arising from risk of suicide is far stricter than the 'mental health' ground for abortion under the British 1967 Act, to which anti-abortion activists refer.

In making this argument, activists display a dismissive attitude to mental health, downplaying the horrific incidence of suicide in Ireland and suggesting suicide risk is not a 'real risk' to life. The argument is profoundly demeaning to women – implying we will be queuing up for abortions by pretending to be suicidal. It also demeans psychiatrists, by suggesting they could be so easily fooled.

In fact, as the report says: "The diagnosis of expressed suicide intent is a routine process for psychiatrists."

Another issue addressed by the report is that of time limits. Anti-abortion activists have engaged in unsavoury scaremongering, suggesting that legislating for the X case would mean carrying out abortions 'up to term'. The report clearly states that where a woman has a pregnancy that places her life at risk, and her foetus is viable, the pregnancy can be ended without ending the life of the foetus; early delivery of the baby may be possible with subsequent neonatal care.

These and other issues addressed in the report will be debated by the Oireachtas over the next three weeks, and the Government will then announce its decision before the Christmas recess. This clear timeline for action is very welcome.

Over many years, Labour has consistently called for legislation on the X case. The decision to legislate is the only one that Government can now make, in light of the expert group's findings. Public opinion is with us.

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar has generated national outrage, with thousands of people calling for legislative action on protests around the country. Twenty years after the X case, the Government must legislate to clarify the 'grey area' of abortion law that continues to risk the lives of women. It is just a pity it has taken so long.

It is also a pity that fatal foetal abnormality is not covered in the report. Earlier this year, we heard the testimonies of four women who had to travel to England for terminations after being told their babies would not survive. It is inhumane to require women to travel abroad in such traumatic circumstances. It should be possible within the terms of the Constitution to legislate for abortion where there is no viable foetal life.

Ultimately, it is not possible under the Constitution to legislate properly for the real health needs of Irish women. Women are voting with their feet. Over 4,000 women travelled from here to England last year for abortions, most on grounds other than risk to life.

The flawed wording of the 1983 amendment, which equates the right to life of the 'unborn' with that of the pregnant woman, has created the legal quagmire we are in; and has prevented the introduction of legislation to meet the needs of these women.

That amendment should be deleted ultimately. For now, we must act swiftly and pass the X case legislation necessary to fulfil our international responsibilities, provide legal clarity and prevent further uncertainty for doctors and women. No more inaction. We know that it costs lives.

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Ivana Bacik

 
 
The family of Savita Halappanavar say the Minister for Health, James Reilly, has until Thursday to agree to a public inquiry into her death or else they will take their case the European Court of Human Rights.

The father of the late Ms Halappanavar has made an appeal to the Government to consider a public inquiry.

Speaking from India, Mr Andanappa Yalagi said the family were not happy with the progress made so far. He added that he did not understand, or trust, the HSE investigation.

Dr Reilly has said that when he receives the reports of the two current investigations into her death, he will take whatever action is needed.

Earlier, Mr Reilly said he respects the views of Praveen Halappanavar and his right to do as he sees fit in seeking a different inquiry into his wife's death.

The minister said he has a duty of care to the women of Ireland and the west of Ireland to ensure practices at University Hospital Galway are safe.

He added that he has a duty to reassure them it is a safe place to have a baby and that he has to await the outcome of the internal and HIQA inquiries.

Minister Reilly said he will take whatever action those inquiries demand, but that "in fairness", this was the first maternal death at the Galway hospital in 17 years, and the service there has been safe.

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OPINION: The Government needs to introduce robust legislation that provides clarity for women facing health risks

When I argued a case challenging Ireland’s ban on abortion before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), I told the story of my client Ms C, who had been battling cancer and had had no option but to travel to England to obtain an abortion when she became pregnant.

Ms C’s doctors had refused to provide even basic information about the risk that continuation of pregnancy posed to her life. The human rights court found this to be a clear violation of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. It demanded that Ireland reform its abortion laws. The case was a major victory for women’s health and rights.

But the victory exists only on paper and not in practice, as is strongly indicated by the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar.

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