Thousands of anti-abortion activists took to the streets of Dublin against the Irish government's proposed legislation on abortion following an outcry over the death of an Indian dentist last year after a miscarriage.
According to Gardai, Ireland's police force, as many as 35,000
people turned out for the protest march carrying rosary beads and placards reading "Kill the bill! Not the child" in reference to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, which will allow abortion when deemed necessary to save a woman's life.
Organisers of the 'Rally for Life' claimed the crowd was as high as 60,000 and the march was the largest against abortion ever held in Ireland.
The coalition government led by Prime Minister Enda Kenny drafted the bill in the wake of re-ignited calls for the predominantly Catholic country to clarify its complex abortion rules after Savita Halappanavar died at Galway University Hospital last year following a miscarriage.
Ireland's justice minister Alan Shatter said on Saturday that had the bill been law last year, Halappanavar might have received a prompt abortion and survived.
He appealed to anti-abortion rebels in the ruling coalition's Fine Gael party to accept the bill or abstain from the final vote which is expected to take place next Wednesday.
An inquest into the 31-year-old Indian dentist's death was told that a timely abortion may have saved her life.
Doctors had denied her pleas for an abortion, even though her uterus had ruptured, because the 17-week-old foetus still had a heartbeat. By the time it stopped, Halappanavar had already contracted lethal septicaemia or blood poisoning, investigations into her death later revealed.
Saturday's protest heard calls from speakers, including Libertas founder Declan Ganley, for a referendum on the bill, which has cleared a crucial vote in the Irish Parliament- Oireachtas- and is expected clear the final stages this week.
Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, outlaws abortion, a position underscored by a 1986 referendum amending the Constitution to declare that the unborn have a right to life.
But the Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that the Constitution equally defends the pregnant woman's right to live, therefore life-saving abortions were legal.
However, Ireland's highest court said this meant a woman should receive an abortion even if the only threat to her life was caused by her own suicide threats.
Six governments since have refused to pass legislation backing that 1992 judgement, leaving obstetricians divided and confused over whether certain life-saving abortions can be performed legally.
In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland's failure to legislate meant pregnant women in dangerous medical conditions were forced to travel overseas, chiefly to neighbouring England, for abortions. It said travel and bureaucratic delays meant some women's medical conditions worsened unnecessarily.
Ireland is just one of two European Union members, alongside Malta, that outlaws the practise.
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