Remember when Joe Walsh, the Republican congressman from Illinois, claimed a ban on abortion needs no exception to save the life of the woman? “With modern science and technology, you can’t find one instance,” he said, in which a woman’s life could have been saved by abortion. Well, how about this instance: In Ireland, where abortion is strictly forbidden, doctors allowed 32-year-old Savita Halapannavar to die of septicemia after days of horrendous suffering, because her 17-week-old fetus, which she was in the process of miscarrying, still had a heartbeat. Never mind that there was no way this fetus could have survived. Never mind that technically, Ireland’s abortion ban permits an exception when there is a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.” The doctors let Savita die, as she and her husband pleaded for them to end the pregnancy. “This is a Catholic country,” one doctor explained. The always cogent and knowledgeable Jodi Jacobson explains it all here  and here .
If you think it couldn’t happen in the United States, you haven’t been paying attention. After all, in 2010, Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator in a Catholic Hospital in Phoenix, was fired and excommunicated after she approved a first-trimester abortion for a woman with life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. What happens in Catholic hospitals when there’s no Sister Margaret willing to risk the bishops’ wrath? With conscience clauses expanding to cover not just individual doctors but whole hospitals, a pregnant woman may find her care is being dictated not by standard health protocols but by a religion she doesn’t even follow. Savita was a Hindu, after all. What about her conscience?
Who is more valuable, a living woman or a dying fetus? The Catholic Church has given its answer, and Savita Halapannavar is dead. If this was Islam, we’d never hear the end of it.
Follow developments, including notifications about protests and demonstrations, at #savita .
Help Irish women now: Every year thousands of Irish women travel to the UK for abortion care. Between travel, accommodations, lost wages and childcare, the expense can be prohibitive. The Abortion Support Network offers help with funding, information, and a place to stay. Honor Savita’s memory by donating what you can .
Savita's death sends a strong message to women: "You are nothing." Check out Jessica Valenti's take here .
To get all the latest stories from The Nation's feminist writers like Jessica Valenti, Katha Pollitt, Melissa Harris-Perry and others delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Feminist Roundup email .