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Irish march for abortion law changes

Thousands of people in Ireland have marched on the offices of the prime minister, calling for clear guidelines on abortion law. It follows the death of a woman from blood poisoning after she was denied an abortion.

The 10,000-strong protest on Saturday in the capital Dublin was the largest of several in recent days, following the death of Indian woman Savita Halappanavar.

Halappanavar died of septicemia on October 28 following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She had been hospitalized a week earlier with severe pain.

Doctors refused Halappanavar's request to terminate her 17-week pregnancy after she was hospitalized with severe pain during a miscarriage. The fetus was removed days later but both Halappanavar's husband and activists believe the delay contributed to the blood poisoning, and that she might have survived had it been removed earlier.

The Irish health authority HSE has launched an inquiry into her death, opening a decades-long debate over whether the government should explicitly allow abortion when the mother's health is at risk.

Uncertainty over law

Ireland, a majority Catholic country, has some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws.

The current law does not specify when the threat to the life or health of the mother is great enough to allow for an abortion. Doctors are left to decide, and critics say that means personal beliefs can influence the decision.

Socially Conservative Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he would not be rushed into a decision on the issue. His Fine Gael party made an election pledge not to introduce any new laws on abortion.

Protestors also took aim at the government's junior coalition partner, the more socially liberal Labour Party. The demonstrators wanted the party to work harder to implement change on abortion, chanting "shame on Labour."

dr/jr (Reuters, AP, AFP, dapd)