Enda Kenny

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DUBLIN — The debate over legalizing abortion in Ireland flared Wednesday after the government confirmed that a woman in the midst of a miscarriage was refused an abortion and died in an Irish hospital after suffering from blood poisoning.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was awaiting findings from three investigations into the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman who was 17 weeks pregnant. Her case highlighted the legal limbo in which pregnant women facing severe health problems can find themselves in predominantly Catholic Ireland.

Ireland’s constitution officially bans abortion, but a 1992 Supreme Court ruling found the procedure should be legalized for situations when the woman’s life is at risk from continuing the pregnancy. Five governments since have refused to pass a law resolving the confusion, leaving Irish hospitals reluctant to terminate pregnancies except in the most obviously life-threatening circumstances.

Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, said doctors at University Hospital Galway in western Ireland determined she was miscarrying within hours of her hospitalization for severe pain on Sunday, Oct. 21. He said over the next three days, doctors refused their requests for an abortion to combat her surging pain and fading health.

The hospital declined to say whether doctors believed Halappanavar’s blood poisoning could have been reversed had she received an abortion rather than waiting for the fetus to die on its own. In a statement, it described its own investigation into the death, and a parallel probe by the government’s Health Service Executive, as “standard practice” whenever a pregnant woman dies in a hospital.

Opposition politicians appealed Wednesday for Kenny’s government to introduce legislation immediately to make the 1992 Supreme Court judgment part of statutory law. Barring any such bill, the only legislation defining the illegality of abortion in Ireland dates to 1861, when the entire island was part of the United Kingdom. That British law, still valid here due to Irish inaction on the matter, states it is a crime punishable by life imprisonment to “procure a miscarriage.”

In the 1992 case, a 14-year-old girl identified in court only as “X’’ successfully sued the government for the right to have an abortion in England. She had been raped by a neighbor. When her parents reported the crime to police, the attorney general ordered her not to travel abroad for an abortion, arguing this would violate Ireland’s constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled she should be permitted an abortion in Ireland, never mind England, because she was making credible threats to commit suicide if refused one. During the case, the girl reportedly suffered a miscarriage.

Since then, Irish governments twice have sought public approval to legalize abortion in life-threatening circumstances — but excluding a suicide threat as acceptable grounds. Both times voters rejected the
proposed amendments.

An abortions right group, Choice Ireland, said Halappanavar might not have died had any previous government legislated in line with the X judgment. Earlier this year, the government rejected an opposition bill to do this.

A demonstrator stages a protest in the street of Davos during the 42nd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DAVOS, Switzerland — Cash-strapped governments in Europe must persuade skeptical citizens to accept severe austerity measures if their countries are to recover and thrive in an increasingly tough global economic environment, European leaders said Thursday.

If there’s no seeming light at the end of the tunnel and divisions within society get too wide, they said Europe’s imperiled economies — and Europe as a whole — will find it increasingly difficult to get to grips with its two-year debt crisis.

They warned at the World Economic Forum that Europe appears set to be eclipsed by the rapid economic rise of China, Brazil and others.

For Enda Kenny, the prime minister of bailed-out Ireland, governments will fail if they don’t carry their people with them when imposing measures that reduce the living standards of large chunks of the population.

“When they give a mandate and they give trust to government and say ‘Here’s the plan and let’s all work together,’ things can actually happen faster than people might imagine,” Kenny said in a panel that included two other European prime ministers and one president on the second day of the annual gathering in Davos.

The Irish, according to Kenny, “simply went mad, borrowing” in the early part of the 21st century and when a property bubble spawned by easy credit and greed burst, the Celtic Tiger economy imploded. The country was left with a massive black hole in its public finances that could only be plugged by a financial rescue package from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.

In return for the money, Ireland has had to cut salaries as well as the size of the state, and increase the pension age. The hope is that Ireland will become more competitive and regain the confidence of the financial markets.

People, he said, following the excesses of the previous decade understand the need for retrenchment but that should never be taken for granted.

“People get frustrated if they don’t see results,” Kenny said.Much of the debate over recent months has centered more on establishing confidence in the rules and institutions governing the euro than on belt-tightening.

There has been a rising chorus of opinion for Europe, and Germany in particular, to back alternative ways out of the crisis, such as boosting its rescue fund or allowing the European Central Bank to play a more pivotal role by buying up more and more of the debt of the imperiled.

On Monday, European leaders are meeting again in Brussels to thrash out a framework for much stricter fiscal discipline. A top priority is re-establishing confidence in both the euro and in the ability of European countries to engage in serious belt tightening.

The annual Davos forum is under growing criticism from those who feel it’s too removed from the real world. Activists from Occupy Davos are camping out in igloos and yurts to call attention to income inequality.

“This is a man-made crisis and the people who have caused the crisis, many of whom are in Davos, should be held to account,” said Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, told The Associated Press.