However, a 1992 Supreme Court judgement known as the X Case ruled abortion was permitted if there was "a real and substantial risk" to the life of the mother.
And in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Irish law was likely to result in legal terminations not going ahead as a result of doctors' fear of prosecution. The ECHR called for the law to be clarified, as "the criminal provisions of the 1861 Act would constitute a significant chilling factor for both women and doctors."
Pro-choice campaigners say this lack of clarity endangers women's lives, linking Halappanavar's death to it.
"Two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled women have a right to an abortion if there is a risk to her life. The issue in this case is that doctors don't know what to do," says Sarah McCathy of campaign group Galway Pro Choice.
Against this backdrop, the emotive Halappanavar case immediately took on enormous political significance. Opposition politicians slammed the government, some demanding action to legislate for abortion.
"We warned [the government] that this would happen but they didn't listen," says independent socialist lawmaker Clare Daly. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Ms. Daly's party affiliation.]
Ms. Daly, whose bill to legalize abortion in limited circumstances was defeated on April 19, says she plans to challenge the government.
"If they don't deliver, we'll be reintroducing our bill without further delay," she told the Monitor.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny says the government will assess the expert recommendations in the next two days.