Life-saving abortions and prolife indecision

Savita HalappanavarAs far as I can see, there are two prolife trends in response to Savita Halappanavar’s death in hospital, denied an abortion.

One reaction is to argue that she would have died anyway, so an abortion wasn’t necessary as it never is no matter what.

For example, SPUC dehumanises Savita as the foetus’s “protection” and argues that the hospital were right not to perform an abortion:

“It is not ethical to induce delivery of an unborn child if there is no prospect of the child surviving outside the womb. At 17 weeks’ pregnancy Mrs Halappanavar’s child was clearly not viable outside the womb, as there is no scientific evidence that unborn children are capable of surviving outside the womb at such a young age. Rather than removing the protection of the womb from unborn children, the ethical response to emergency situations in pregnancy is medical treatment of the mother for the conditions causing the emergency. In the case of infection, this is usually timely administration of antibiotics. It is also not ethical to end the life of an unborn child, via induction or any other means, where the child is terminally-ill.”

The other is to argue that there was medical incompetence because of course she could have received “all necessary medical treatment” to save her life: the familiar prolife distinction that makes some abortions, in their mind, not really abortions.

(Meantime, the prochoice majority is simply outraged. But that’s the human response.)

It is worth noting that had Savita Halappanavar got an abortion on 21st October and been home in time to celebrate Diwali with her husband, if similar publicity had been given to her getting an abortion in an Irish hospital as has been given to her death as a result of being denied an abortion, we would now be seeing from both sets of prolifers a universal outcry against her having been “allowed” to have an abortion: and any Catholics who performed or who assisted in her abortion would be excommunicated.

In late 2009, a woman was admitted to a Catholic hospital in Arizona. She was critically ill in consequence of her pregnancy, late in the first trimester, and after some indecision the hospital decided they had to perform an abortion to save her life. The woman lived and went home to her husband and four children. The local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, excommunicated the nun on the ethics board who had been involved in the decision.

A prolife American writer, Elizabeth Scalia, wrote this on 21st Mary 2010, approving the bishop’s decision and decrying the need for an abortion:

Stories like this make the Catholic Church seem so very unreasonable. Who would not prefer to save the life of a woman who is already “here,” one who can be touched and seen and appreciated, over the life of a great unknown, the dependent creature in the womb? Other faiths allow abortion in a case such as this; only the arrogant Catholic Church, it seems, is so blind to reason, so narrow and unnatural.

But the position of the church is actually born from humility, from daring to believe that God knows what he is doing. The church is not blind; she sees with eyes that are not fixated on the corporeal. Her perceived narrowness of perspective is actually so broad, it reaches into mystery. Far from being unnatural, she remains supernatural. She dares to trust that God’s plans really are “of fullness, not of harm.”

Although details are scarce, we are told there was an “urgency” to this 11-week pregnancy, and that there was a “nearly certain” risk of death to the mother. “If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it,” the hospital told The Arizona Republic. “We are convinced there was not.”

The adverb is the bugaboo. A “nearly certain, risk” is where reason, faith and ethics collide. Man trusts what man knows (in this case science and human flesh) and because he likes that illusion of control, he ignores the qualifier and calls the risk “certain.” It is easier to move on a pure certainty than on a “near” one that muddles everything up.

On 15th November 2012, the same prolife writer suggested that it would have been okay to perform an abortion to save Savita’s life providing the abortion was done by induced delivery:

Even if you are not well-versed on Catholic teaching, as apparently whoever spoke to the Halappanavars was not, just thinking this one through — if people do that, anymore — should have answered the question. Inducing the delivery of a baby at 17 weeks would likely insure its death (I believe the earliest gestation stage to survive is about 21 weeks) but unlike a dilation and curettage, which destroys the baby in utero (and which would not have been performed at 17 weeks, regardless) an induced delivery still allowed for the longshot of a live delivery — it still would allow for God’s determining hand in this life.

Some may (undoubtedly will) argue (and please do correct me if I am wrong, churchfolk), but my understanding of Catholic teaching is that this inducement could have been performed, and whoever told Savita and her husband that what they were asking for was impossible because of the “Catholic country” frankly did not know what he or she was talking about.

As I say, however, there is no guarantee that an inducement would have saved Savita, if there was an infection that was going unaddressed, in fact the physical stresses involved in delivering the baby after inducement might have sped the infection along.

At the crux of this death and why it happened, are questions about this Galway hospital’s policies and procedures, and whether medical negligence was a contributing factor. I suspect it very much was.

In both articles, incidentally, although the writer has no medical qualifications and no knowledge of either case beyond what she could glean from newspaper reports, she writes with serene authority about what the doctors should have done…

This appears to be turning into an international row

The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday summoned the Irish ambassador following the uproar over the death of an Indian woman in Ireland after a hospital denied her an abortion. Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar was denied the termination of her pregnancy under the country’s anti-abortion law even though her life was in danger. The Indian government took up Savita’s death directly and the Indian ambassador in Dublin met Irish authorities on Friday after there were protests outside Irish Parliament on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Women on Friday said it would take up with the External Affairs Ministry the death of the Indian dentist in Ireland after doctors allegedly refused to terminate her pregnancy on the ground that it was a ‘Catholic country’. “Indian Government should take action and I will take it up with the External Affairs Ministry on Monday that the Irish government ease the strict abortion rules on humanitarian grounds,” NCW chairperson Mamata Sharma said.

Protest Against the Needless Death of Savita Halappanava in Edinburgh:

Please join us to let the Irish government know what we think of recent events. Let’s express our outrage and anger that 20 years later, a woman has died needlessly. You do NOT need to be Irish to join this protest!

Please bring a candle, and a greetings-card, if you can.

Saturday is the last night of Diwali: for Savita’s family and for Praveen Halappanavar and his family, and for an entire community in Galway, let’s leave our greetings-cards at the consulate to be delivered to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny
and to the Health Minister James Reilly to remind them why emergency legislation that has been waiting 20 years should be passed *now*.

Savita Halappanava was admitted to a hospital in Galway, Ireland 2 weeks ago. She was 17 weeks pregnant and was miscarrying. The medical team would not give her a termination, although there was zero chance of fetal survival, because they did not know if this would be legal. She died, in agony, after several days. They did eventually remove the contents of her womb after the fetal heartbeat disappeared but it was too late and she died of septicaemia.

The Irish govt has, 20 years on, failed to legislate in the wake of the X case and ensuing constitutional amendments and supreme court judgements. Doctors don’t know where they stand or what is lawful, leading directly to the situation where Savita died.

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Filed under American, Healthcare, Justice, Women

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