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Husband wants answers over wife whose death sparked abortion debate

By Nic Robertson, CNN
updated 12:30 PM EST, Fri November 23, 2012
  • Praveen Halappanavar believes notes are missing from his wife's medical records
  • She died of blood poisoning after being denied an abortion while miscarrying, he says
  • Ireland, a majority Catholic country, has strict laws on abortion
  • Health authorities are reviewing the circumstances of Savita Halappanavar's death

Galway, Ireland (CNN) -- One fateful day in October, life changed forever for Praveen Halappanavar.

The engineer from India, who had settled in Ireland four years earlier with his wife, Savita, found himself suddenly a widower.

Savita, a 31-year-old dentist, had died of blood poisoning after being denied an abortion for a miscarrying fetus under Ireland's strict laws, her husband says.

Read more: Protesters in Ireland rally for abortion rights

A month later, Halappanavar is without his beloved partner and the child they both longed for -- and now fears the truth behind her tragic death may be lost, too.

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"We've seen some tampering (with) the medical records -- basically some key information in the medical reports is missing," he told CNN.

The missing notes concern the couple's requests to hospital staff for a termination, Halappanavar said.

The Galway/Roscommon University Hospitals Group has declined to comment on his claim.

Meanwhile, heath authorities have already launched one inquiry into Savita's death, and a second into the care of critically ill patients was announced by the Board of the Health Information and Quality Authority on Friday.

Read more: Woman's death prompts abortion debate in Ireland

But whatever conclusions are reached, they won't diminish her husband's grief.

Prospects for the couple, who married after meeting in India, had looked so bright. Together they had dreams of a beautiful future in Galway -- of children, forming a family.

"She was looking forward ... in a way she found she was in the right place," said her husband. "She was well-organized too. She knew what she wanted in life. That's why she had decided to settle here in the long term."

When Savita, an attractive woman who loved to dance, became pregnant they were overjoyed. But then their ordeal began.

Seventeen weeks into her pregnancy Savita began suffering severe back pain, and sought medical help.

Read more: Who calls the shots on abortion laws?

Doctors at the Galway University Hospital told her she was miscarrying and that her baby would likely die.

Savita's husband says his wife, who was in extreme pain, asked for a termination, but was told that Ireland is a Catholic country and that the procedure could not be carried out while the fetus was alive.

"We requested a termination," he said. "We wanted to go back, to go home and think about the next pregnancy because it was a planned pregnancy. We were so happy, we wanted to have babies."

Three days after the request for a termination was made, the fetus died and was removed.

Four days later, Savita was dead from a blood infection.

Read more: Pregnant teen dies after abortion ban delays her chemo treatment for leukemia

The circumstances of her death have prompted outrage in Ireland. Protests in support of Savita, held not just in Ireland but across the world, have urged the country's politicians to update its abortion laws and prevent similar tragedies.

In Ireland, abortion is legal if the mother's life is at risk, which differs from her health being at risk, said Kitty Holland, a reporter with the Irish Times.

With abortion a hot-button issue in Ireland, there has been political fallout from the controversy, too.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny is under pressure to get Halappanavar to assist with a Health Service Executive inquiry into his wife's death, which was the first investigation set up.

But Halappanavar says government steps so far have done little to inspire confidence, not just because officials took weeks to announce the inquiry, but also because when they did, three of the seven medical professionals on the investigation team were from the same hospital where his wife died.

Although they have now been replaced on the team, other issues remain, Halappanavar said.

"We made a request for termination and there is no note of the request at all, and of the medical notes. The response from the doctor is not in the medical records either."

Asked what he thinks has happened to the information, Halappanavar has no answer.

"We don't know what has happened to it," Halappanavar said. "It is strange that all other information is in there -- when we requested things like tea and toast, and when things like we requested an extra blanket, all that is in the medical notes."

Halappanavar says he will settle for nothing less than a full public inquiry -- one in which the wider health service, not just his wife's death, is investigated by independent experts.

"Every single person in the family asked me how could this happen in a place like Ireland in the 21st century, because it was just so simple," he said.

"When they knew the baby was not going to survive, why not think about the bigger life which was the mother, my wife Savita? And they didn't."

All he wants, he said, is the truth.

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