London, April 11 (PTI): A midwife has apologised for telling Savita Halappanavar, who had a miscarriage and died later, that she could not have an abortion in Ireland because it was a "Catholic country".
Ann Maria Burke admitted she made the remark to the Indian dentist in University Hospital Galway just days before she died of septicaemia.
According to Irish media reports, the senior midwife said she made the remarks while trying to explain to Savita the rules of the country after the 31-year-old dentist said she was Hindu and she would have ended her pregnancy in her home country.
"I did mention it's a Catholic country," Burke told Galway coroner Ciaran MacLoughlin. "I didn't mention it in a hurtful context. It was in a conversation we had." She added: "I'm sorry that I said it."
Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital on October 21 last year with back pain. She delivered a dead baby girl three days later and was rushed to intensive care within hours of the delivery.
Savita died on October 28 of a heart attack caused by septicaemia. Her death ignited debates on abortion laws in Ireland with people calling for a change.
The inquest, in its third day at Galway courthouse, has heard claims that consultant obstetrician Dr Katherine Astbury also made the "Catholic" remark to Savita and her husband Praveen.
Dr Astbury, who was questioned yesterday, has denied using the phrase but admitted there were system failures in her care. She also warned of a lack of legal clarity for doctors treating pregnant women who suffer health risks.
The consultant obstetrician insisted that when she told the dentist she could not abort the baby, she meant: "In this country it is not legal to terminate a pregnancy on grounds of poor prognosis of the foetus."
She also referred to the Irish Medical Council guidelines on abortion, which refer to terminating a pregnancy if there is an immediate threat to the mother's life.
Asked by the coroner if there was confusion over the interpretation of the guidelines, she replied: "There's no law to tell you what is permitted or not permitted."