An inquest opened in Ireland on Monday into the death of a pregnant Indian woman who was allegedly denied a termination, sparking fierce debate on the Catholic country's strict abortion laws.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist originally from India, died in a hospital in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, last October after suffering a miscarriage.

She was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying when she went to Galway University Hospital on October 21, complaining of backache.

Her husband Praveen said his wife, a Hindu, repeatedly requested that doctors terminate the pregnancy but they refused because there was still a foetal heartbeat and because Ireland "is a Catholic country".

Savita died of suspected septicaemia on October 28, five days after losing her baby.

"The next few days are going to be very tough," Praveen Halappanavar said as he arrived for the first day of evidence at Galway Coroner's Court.

The inquest is his last chance to find out the truth about how his wife was treated, and why, he said.

The medics who treated Savita will be among those called to give evidence at the inquest, which is expected to last a week.

During his opening address, coroner Ciaran McLoughlin expressed his sympathies to the Halappanavar family.

"An inquest is an inquiry held in public to determine how and where the death occurred," he told the packed courtroom.

"It is a fact-finding exercise. There are no parties, no indictment, no defence. It is quite unlike the criminal court process.

"It is there to establish a cause of death, allay rumours and draw attention to any facts that left unremedied may lead to other deaths."

Nearly 70 statements from hospital staff, police and other sources have been gathered for the inquest but not all of their authors will appear as witnesses, the court heard.