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Remember Savita Halappanavar

Health & Wellness  (tags: women, warning, treatment, society, protection, medicine, science, risks, safety, prevention, illness, healthcare, humans, health, government, ethics, babies, disease, family, research, death )

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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?

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JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 12:44 pm

The Nation
Published on The Nation (

Remember Savita Halappanavar
Katha Pollitt | November 20, 2012

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?

Anti-choice apologists don’t like to put it so bluntly. Instead they say that modern medicine means abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life. The church likes to point to its own exceptions: the termination of a pregnancy is acceptable if it is the indirect result of a life-saving medical procedure, such as removing a fallopian tube that contains an ectopic pregnancy or removing a cancerous pregnant womb (but not, nota bene, the removal of an ectopic pregnancy directly, by medications, or by surgery that removes the embryo and preserves the tube and the woman’s fertility. That would be immoral). Even these exceptions were hotly debated until the 1930s, as Italian Ob/Gyns begged the church for guidance that would let them save women’s lives in these medical emergencies when no baby could ever result.

Anti-choicers speak out of both sides of their mouths about the life exception. They like to argue that abortion is never medically necessary; but they also argue that even strict bans permit abortion to save women’s lives. Then they change the subject, like Irish Bishop John Fleming: “Ireland, without abortion, is recognised as one of the safest countries in the world to be a pregnant mother,” he wrote in The Irish Times.“Clearly, if the life of the mother is threatened, by illness or some other medical condition, the care provided by medical professionals will make sure that she receives all the medical care needed.”

Like this article? Support this journalism with a $5 donation now. [1]

Anti-choicers would like to portray Savita’s death as simple malpractice. On blogs and social media, alternate explanations fly round: she should have been given antibiotics sooner; she would have died anyway. But nothing can change the fact that the standard of care is to remove the fetus to prevent infection. And nothing can change the fact that Savita Halappanavar is dead.

With pressure mounting—an international day of protest is called for November 21—Ireland may make some gestures toward clarifying its guidelines for medical professionals to help them decide what constitutes a life-threatening situation. But a technical fix like that isn’t what Irish women need. Abortion bans are simply incompatible with women’s health. Here in the United States, restrictive laws and policies are putting women in danger. According to a report for the National Women’s Law Center, women at Catholic-affiliated hospitals, which follow the official Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services, have been denied immediate and standard treatment for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. Expanded conscience clauses, and proposals like Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” will only increase women’s risk. The next Savita could be right here at home.

In her last column, Katha Pollitt wrote that [2] the deepest division between the candidates in the just-past presidential election “was over whether, as President Obama put it, we are all in this together.
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Kit B (276)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 2:18 pm

Though this heartbreaking situation happened in Ireland, few countries are safe from this imposition of laws that protect a dead or dying fetus before protecting the life of the mother. I don't mind blaming the Pope, much weight should go on the head of a man that caused so much harm to humanity in favor of his corporate entity; the Catholic Church. Though he is far from alone in deserving blame and castigation for ignoring the needs of those who are alive in favor of archaic and intentionally misinterpreted, laws that kill women.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 2:24 pm
Kit, once again you give voice to the tragic aspects as all humanity cries even better than how the original author captured it--I sure wish I could shower you with emerald constellations!

Freya H (357)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 3:44 pm
This tragic incident goes to show that so-called pro-life measures have nothing to do with human life, born or unborn; and have everything to do with controlling women and reducing them to the status of brood cows.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 3:59 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Freya because you have done so within the last week.

jo M. (3)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 7:39 pm
Yes, Ireland should enact a law to permit abortion when the mother's life is in danger, though not through threats of suicide. You would still have to rely on doctors to determine if that was the case.

Mike M (40)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 9:39 am
It just shows the stupidity of mankind to march in lock step with written words over life

Patricia H. (440)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 1:55 pm

David Menard (43)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 2:04 pm
RIP Savita My condolences to her family and friends. May the law in Ireland be changed so no other women are lost.

Shirley B (5)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 2:08 pm

Marilyn L (107)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 4:29 pm
When I read this article I was beyond livid. The Catholic Church should be put on trial for murder of Savita. Am I kidding, no I damn well am not. It is time the international court paid attention to what the Catholic Church and others are doing to women. They might as well as stood Savita against a wall and shot her for asking the physicians to terminate a dying fetus.

And where or where were the healthcare people? Not one, not one single person had the guts to practice the medicine they were taught and took an oath to uphold. Damn them, the Church and the Irish government for allowing the death of Savita.

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 4:41 pm
I share your outrage Marilyn.You cannot currently send a star to Marilyn because you have done so within the last week.

Sharon F (0)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 4:50 pm
Thanks for the post. Boycott the Catholic church. ******A bouquet of dried thistles to the Catholic heirachy, and to the 'sheeple' Irish leadership for not having the spine to make sensible laws.

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 5:13 pm
You are welcome Shar.

Gloria picchetti (304)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 4:19 am
Good journalism doesn't need to ask for $5 but the article is still right.

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 8:29 am
Gloria, some magazines permit readers to help fund the costs of investigative journalism so that they can afford to investigate more issues at a time; The Nation is one that does that.You cannot currently send a star to Gloria because you have done so within the last week.

Lois Jordan (63)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 3:12 pm
The Catholic Church patriarchy has no business sticking its ecclesiastical noses into women's medical issues....or any women's issues for that matter.

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 3:28 pm
Thanks Lois for adding your perspective, which reminded me of the Biblical story of the woman at the well (theologians believe she was shunned as the town prostitute yet Jesus chose to value her in the story). You cannot currently send a star to Lois because you have done so within the last week.

Kamakshi Ramaswamy (4)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 7:23 pm

Past Member (0)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 11:04 pm

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 11:08 pm
You are welcome Samir.

Marie Therese Hanulak (30)
Thursday November 29, 2012, 9:34 am
obviously, existing humans are off nop importance when it comes to ideology.
All religions are the root of all evil.

Carmen S (611)
Saturday December 1, 2012, 6:37 pm
thanks J.L., this is very sad and totally wrong, hope this case will wake up some people

JL A (281)
Saturday December 1, 2012, 6:45 pm
You are welcome Carmen. I hope so, too. You cannot currently send a star to Carmen because you have done so within the last week.

Therese Davey (1)
Monday December 3, 2012, 9:10 am
NOTHING in Irish law prevented the hospital from ending Savita’s pregnancy in order to save her life. Inducing labour to save the life of the mother happens regularly in Irish hospitals and is not the same as abortion. Salvita was sadly miscarrying on arrival to the hospital a terrible experience to begin with and, sadly she died within days of delivering her baby from septicaemia and E Coli ESBL. We may never know for certain whether ending the pregnancy earlier would have controlled the infection and saved her life, but, if medical staff needed to do that they could have done it. Ireland is not an ignorant, murderous, backward Catholic country who denies abortion or allows mothers to die. This sad case is about a miscarriage and not about abortion legislation. Ireland with its very high birth rate, has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world, lower than the British rate where abortion is available on demand. Mothers dies because of botched abortions in legally approved clinics also, last year a doctor in a UK Marie Stopes clinic, was struck off the medical register because he nearly killed a woman while performing an abortion on her, resulting in her being ill in hospital for two months. Our sympathies and prayers must go to Savita's family at this sad time, please wait for the investigation and fully inform yourself before you judge us. The Irish people vote to change our constitution not the Pope or the Church and finally the original journalist who wrote the article has now expressed her own doubts about some of the content of the story.

JL A (281)
Monday December 3, 2012, 9:36 am
Thank you Therese for providing additional information and context for this article--more complete information is often helpful for people to get a fuller and more accurate understanding of any event reported in the news.
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