A protester holds a picture of Savita Halappanavar outside University Hospital Galway in Galway, Ireland November 15, 2012. Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
By now the whole world knows about Savita Halappanavar, the young woman who died of septic shock in an Irish hospital on October 28, after doctors refused to complete her in-process miscarriage by performing an abortion. This was not a case of choosing between the fetus and the woman—the seventeen-week fetus was doomed, and nothing could have saved it. But it still had a heartbeat, and abortion is banned in Ireland. I can’t get over the mental image of Savita’s three days of agony. Her husband described it to The Irish Times:
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything.’
“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.”
University Hospital, Galway, where this shameful event took place, isn’t a Catholic hospital, but no matter: Ireland’s abortion law is Catholic law. Could there be a clearer demonstration that when you get right down to it, the church does not value women, and neither does Ireland? Even a dying fetus counted for more than the life of this young, vibrant woman.
Ah, but, you say, the Irish abortion ban has an exception to save a woman’s life. Not exactly. In 1992, the government tried to bar a 14-year-old girl raped by a neighbor from traveling with her parents to Britain for an abortion. The case went to the Supreme Court, which decided that abortion was legal when the pregnancy is a “real and substantial risk to the mother’s life,” and that this included suicide, which the girl in this case had threatened. The government was supposed to re-examine its abortion law, but why make waves? Twenty years later, the original law still stands. In effect, this means a doctor who performs an abortion to save a patient’s life could be arrested and required to prove that his judgment was correct at trial. It takes a brave doctor, one confident of his medical judgment, to take this risk. The bishop of the diocese of Phoenix forced the resignation of hospital administrator Sister Margaret McBride and then excommunicated her, after she OK’d a medically necessary abortion at St. Joseph’s in 2010. If McBride had been on vacation, would someone else have stepped up to the plate?
When pregnancy kills a woman, her fetus dies, too. So what is the point of denying a life-saving abortion except to underline that she is the vessel, and the fetus is the human being?