A midwife at an Irish hospital has apologised for telling Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, who died following a miscarriage, that she could not have an abortion “because Ireland is a Catholic country”.

Ann Maria Burke, who treated Savita at Galway University Hospital, admitted that she made the remark but insisted that it was not meant to “offend” the patient.

“I did mention it’s a Catholic country…It was not said in the context to offend her. I’m sorry how it came across. It does sound very bad now but at the time I didn’t mean it that way. It was the law of the land and there were two referendums where the Catholic Church was pressing the buttons,” she told an inquest into Savita’s death.

“I’m sorry that I said it,” she added.

Savita’s husband Praveen Halappanavar said he was “grateful” to Ms. Burke for apologising and was “moved” when she said it.

Asked if he forgave her for her original remark, he said: “Yes, I do.”

“We never expected that. We thought she would deny it,” he said. “I was moved when she said that [she had used the “Catholic country” term]. I was relieved,” he said.

Until now, the hospital had consistently denied anyone had made such a remark.

Savita (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital on October 21 with severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying but according to her husband doctors refused to abort citing Ireland’s strict anti-abortion law. A week later she died of septicaemia.

Her death caused widespread outrage, triggering protests against Ireland’s virtual ban on abortion. The law has since been reviewed and the government is to bring in legislation to make abortion legal in certain circumstances.

An official report into Savita’s death concluded that she have been saved had doctors paid “appropriate” attention to her deteriorating condition instead of focusing all efforts on saving the foetus.

“The investigating team considers there was an apparent overemphasis on the need not to intervene until the foetal heart stopped, together with an under-emphasis on the need to focus an appropriate attention on monitoring for and managing the risk of infection and sepsis in the mother,” the inquiry said.

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