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Thousands protest in Ireland to liberalize abortion laws

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Coming as it did as the government ponders the recommendations of an "expert group" on abortion, Halappanavar's death has reignited an already simmering war of words about the morality – and legality — of abortion.

Ireland outlaws abortion under an 1861 statute, but a 1992 Supreme Court judgment demanded the country legislate to allow for abortions when a woman's life is threatened by pregnancy. Successive governments have not brought any legislation forward, but a 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment demanded Ireland clarify the status of abortion in Irish law.

Currently, terminations are permitted only if the intention is to save the life of the pregnant woman rather than end the pregnancy. Doctors have complained there is a lack of clarity over when they can or cannot perform terminations, either by induced labor or by dilation and evacuation, a method used to deal with miscarriages but also a form of surgical abortion.

Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Enda Kenny rejected the idea there was a connection between Halappanavar's death and the country's stance on abortion, calling it a "tragic coincidence."

Mr. Kenny is on the record as an opponent of abortion, and his conservative Fine Gael party is virtually uniformly antiabortion, but his coalition partners in the Labor party are predominantly in favor of at least limited access to abortion.

Smaller events were held across Ireland today, including in Galway, where 60 members of the Indian community gathered outside Galway University Hospital. Candlelight vigils were also held in other towns and cities, including an assembly of 1,000 people in Galway.

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