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Ireland and Abortion: Cruelty disguised as piety, cowardice misrepresented as principle. - Spectator Blogs

14 November 2012

12:53 PM

14 November 2012

12:53 PM

Oh, Ireland! You knew it would come to this. Today’s Irish Times carries the appalling story of the death of Savita Halappanavar, a dentist in Galway, who died in hospital largely as a consequence of being denied an abortion. As the paper reports, Mrs Halappanavar:

[P]resented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.

She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.

[…] Speaking from Belgaum in the Karnataka region of southwest India, Mr Halappanavar said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.

“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.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”

So there you have it. This Is A Catholic Country. I don’t imagine this was said as a boast; more probably it was accompanied by a measure of apologetic shoulder-shrugging. Of course one cannot be sure of this.

What is certain, however, is that something like this was likely to happen at some point. It was just a matter of time; the unavoidable consequence of abortion laws that are cruelty disguised as piety, cowardice misrepresented as principle.

Of course the doctors could not have predicted that their patient would contract septicaemia, far less that she would die from it. However they must have known that the longer it took for her to miscarry the greater the health risks to which she must necessarily be exposed. Better, however, for Mrs Halapannavar to suffer agonies than permit the merciful termination of a doomed pregnancy. This Is A Catholic Country, after all.

Mrs Halapannavar’s pitiful position was that, despite being in great pain, she wasn’t sufficiently ill to qualify for an abortion. If she had been dying, doctors would have been permitted to privilege her life above that of her unborn child. The Irish constitution permits a “termination” in cases where the mother’s life – as distinct from her health – is at risk. Clearly, doctors did not think Mrs Halapannavar’s life was in danger. Equally likely: this delay helped kill her.

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And all to permit an unviable fetus to perish naturally. Perhaps terminating the pregnancy sooner would have brought its own complications. They could scarcely have been graver than those that followed the failure to assist Mrs Halappanavar.

For decades Ireland has pretended that abortion does not exist. But it does. Thousands of Irish women travel to England each year to have their pregnancies terminated. Irish abortion is a reality; it just doesn’t happen on Irish soil.

Dail Eireann has had twenty years to pass legislation clarifying just when and in what circumstances women in Ireland can legally have an abortion. The X Case – which, you will recall, reintroduced internment for (raped) 14 year old girls (as Irish Times cartoonist Martyn Turner famously put it) – was 20 years ago. Yet no legislation followed. Seven governments have had the chance to legislate; seven governments have ducked the issue. But it won’t go away, despite everyone’s best efforts to bury the issue in some Longford or Roscommon bog.

The Taioseach’s response this morning was hardly impressive either: “Anything that we do will not bring back the good woman that has passed away“. True but also not far short of: Stuff happens, doesn’t it? And that has traditionally been the precursor to learning lessons (but not, heaven forbid, implementing them) and, above all, moving on to something, anything else.

I dare say Enda Kenny would, in ordinary circumstances, welcome a distraction from economic matters. Abortion, of course, is no ordinary issue. It now seems inconvenient that just a few weeks ago the Taoiseach waved the matter away: ‘I think that this issue is not of priority for government now’.

Well it is now. Even, nay especially, because This Is A Catholic Country.

 

 

 

 

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Good thought.

  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice blog.

  • colleen2

    Thank you for the headline. It precisely describes the obscene and entirely preventable and absolutely unnecessary death of Mrs Halappanavar.
    Every medical professional involved is a coward and the Church? pure evil.

  • karl_dubhe

    Gotta love religion. It lets you be a killer and claim that ‘gawd’ did it. This is an evil story, I’m sorry for the husband and other children.

    Oh, do you think the Catholic Church won a soul to Christ with this kind of work?

  • Leelywhite

    This case needs some clear thinking. There are three issues here: the law, religious conviction and medical treatment. From what I’ve read the patient was 17 weeks pregnant, the cervix was dilated and she was leaking amniotic fluid. From a medical perspective the foetus had no chance of survival and the biggest risk was sepsis. There was no question as to the correct treatment: evacuation of the uterus was imperative. Septic abortion is a terrible complication, with a very high rate of maternal mortality.
    The question of abortion by choice for whatever reason is a completely different issue and will no doubt be seized on by pro choice activists, but that is just muddying the water. The issue here is monumental medical negligence brought about by dogma which even thinking believers would find repulsive.

  • Noa

    One has sympathy with the human tragedy of the Halapsannavars. However they knew of the law in Ireland when they decided to work there. Did they expect it to be changed for them?
    As with the Irish, and other economic migrants like themselves, the Halapannavars could have chosen to be treated by the UK NHS, who now has in excess of 6,000,000 abortions to its credit. Indeed the numbers killed now comfortably exceed those of the victims in Hitler’s concentration camps. Indeed they appear to have been quite able to afford private treatment.

    The common purpose agenda being driven here by this unfortunate but avoidable event is one of anti-catholicism and political reform.

    • kwestion.all

      “As with the Irish, and other economic migrants like themselves, the Halapannavars could have chosen to be treated by the UK NHS, who now has in excess of 6,000,000 abortions to its credit. Indeed the numbers killed now comfortably exceed those of the victims in Hitler’s concentration camps. Indeed they appear to have been quite able to afford private treatment in the UK, if they had wanted to pay for it.”

      Er excuse me, but Mrs Halapsannavar was hoping to have a baby, NOT an abortion. Her pregnancy miscarried, leading to septicemia, which as a result of (institutionalised) medical negligence, ended her life. The reference to Hitler in this instance is offensive, crass, insensitive, as well as being totally innacurate. Kindly get your facts right, please.

    • Alois Ortsman

      Every advanced country has a few insane circumstances hidden among the wealth and good fortune. The fact that one can switch from one package plan to another does not justify the odd nasty detail. An injustice is an injustice even if there is an airport nearby.

    • Alois Ortsman

      “The common purpose agenda being driven here by this unfortunate but avoidable event is one of anti-catholicism and socialist political reform.”

      You mean that Ms. Halappanavar could have avoided the whole unfortunate event by simply taking a flight to Hitler’s UK, but chose to remain in Ireland to pursue an agenda of rabid-anti-Catholicism through her shocking death?

      Brilliant.

  • Dr Crackles

    The pro-abortion lobby in Ireland and elsewhere have been waiting for this event to happen for a long time. Apart from rape, the risk of maternal death it is the most powerful argument for abortion. In the UK both rape and risk to the mother account for a tiny proportion of abortions, which makes me think they should be treated as special cases away from the wider abortion debate. Thankfully for Ireland it is at the thin end of the abortion wedge whereas in the UK the sickening fat-end gets wider every day.

  • Christine

    I have suffered from septicaemia before after a miscarriage just a few months ago. It is the worst thing ever at one point I did believe I was dying, you feel like your whole body is slowly shutting down and the pain is unbearable.

    I do not beleive that this is a matter of religion or the law on abortion. But I beleive it was the negligence of the doctors. Once you are given a diagnosis of a misscariage, the baby is going to die no matter what is done. Heartbeat or no heart beat, the baby is pretty much gone.

    When her doctors realised this and saw that she was in pain, the pregnancy should have been terminated straight away because there was no chance of the baby surviving. Negligence is to blame.

  • Daniel

    Hear hear! It’s entirely shameful that Ireland should have some of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world because of its law on abortion. Of course this poor woman’s death is a tragedy, but it’s being reported because it is so rare, while the much larger numbers of women who die while undergoing legal abortions are not reported.

    • Talio

      Abortion is safer than childbirth, though.

  • sunnydayrider

    I have several Irish friends. Generally speaking they are warm, generous, caring, stoneage people

    • Dailymane

      Finallly, someone who sees.

  • mark_dowling

    The Taoiseach is attempting to cover his embarrassment because of the parade of his Party’s deputies who lined up to defeat a private member’s bill on this very subject a mere seven months ago. One of them got very exercised on the subject of fornication. Hope she feels proud of herself today. http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2012041900006?opendocument

    CraigStrachan – not sure what comfort there will be in an ECHR suit, after all Ireland’s busy trying to avoid dealing with the consequences of the A,B,C vs Ireland judgement. Meanwhile the powers that be will be hoping for a quickly arranged financial settlement complete with confidentiality clause.

    • Tannin

      The legislative debate you post is well worth reading for the bizarre slurry of mealy-mouthed half-sympathising and talking out of both sides of the issue while voting against the bill. Thanks for digging it up.

  • R Blaine

    (1) The Irish Constitution contains, in the same article as the general ban on abortion, an exception requiring “due regard for the equal life of the mother”. That should have been enough legal cover for the doctors concerned?
    (2) India is, of course, not a Catholic country and has abortion on demand. Some might want to compare the status of women in India with the status of women in Ireland before giving vent to their inner Richard Dawkins.

    • mark_dowling

      @6d743149f7cc8be0652c09d32c0d8ac5:disqus – the Supreme Court said otherwise. “In the context of the eight years that have passed since the Amendment was adopted and the two years since Grogan’s case the failure by the legislature to enact the appropriate legislation is no longer just unfortunate; it is inexcusable. What are pregnant women to do? What are the parents of a pregnant girl under age to do? What are the medical profession to do? They have no guidelines save what may be gleaned from the judgments in this case… Legislation may be both negative and positive: negative, in prohibiting absolutely or at a given time, or without meeting stringent tests: positive by requiring positive action. The State may fulfil its role by providing necessary agencies to help, to counsel, to encourage, to comfort, to plan for the pregnant woman, the pregnant girl or her family. It is not for the courts to programme society; that is partly, at least, the role of the legislature. The courts are not equipped to regulate these procedures. (Opinion of McCarthy J., Attorney General vs X, [1992] IESC 1)

      • R Blaine

        Thanks for clarifying that. X involved a threat of suicide, I understand, whereas this case did not. Do Irish courts not apply the common-law principle “nulla poena sine lege” to construe criminal laws (here, the Constitutional article) as narrowly as possible, and exemptions (here, the equal right of the woman not to die) as broadly as possible, so as to give the defendant the benefit of any reasonable doubt? Why does the Oireachtas need to pass legislation clarifying the Constitution before this happens?

        This is sounding like one of those cases where the tabloid press trumpets “We must repeal the entire Human Rights & Freedoms Charter Act because the police say it prohibits them from keeping tabs on paedophiles” when in fact Section 127(1)(c)(iii) of the Human Rights & Freedoms Charter Act will say explicitly “These rights may be limited to protect children from sexual abuse.” I wonder at the agenda of the doctors involved, and whether they thought a martyr might help Ireland’s pro-abortion movement get things moving again.

  • kevinlynch

    It was simply the hospital being stupid. The law clearly permits abortion in these circumstances (where the expectant mother’s life is in danger), according to the 1992 case of AG v X (an applicant).

  • john cronin

    Abortion is illegal in Ireland because of an English law: the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. They just never got round to repealing it. The legal situation re abortion in Ireland is exactly the same as it was in the UK prior to 67. Or in most US states prior to 74. Obviously the law was frequently ignored in both countries – there were and are plenty of illegal terminations in Ireland. Problem is the doctors have to at least pay lip service to the law.

  • Kevin

    This is a disgusting commentary.

    You do not legalise the taking of innocent life. If a doctor judges clinically that an unborn child is “doomed”, let him have his day in court and plead mitigation. Killing is that serious.

    Does “stuff happen”? Well, yes it does. “Stuff” like being killed by an insane person. No matter how painful the loss may be, the innocent insane person is an object of charitable concern like any other. This remains the case though that person presents a demonstrable and direct threat to life even when their care and the protection of others has been thoroughly planned.

    Legalisation of abortion diminishes an entire class of people. This is never justifiable. The Catholic legal analysis is superior, and is the foundation of Scots and English criminal legal science. Where is the national soul-searching in Britain when legislative and executive corruption of traditional law leads to the killing of children with cleft palates or the specific killing of female unborn children or the promotion of infanticide in British medical journals?

    This vicious attack on Catholic charity is an utterly inappropriate response to the husband and father’s great loss.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Ireland only has to look at England to see the future: forty-five years after the inception of the 1967 Abortion Act have only produced one thing; that after 7.5 million abortions, England is a nation of old people who have to make up the numbers by migration. Compare this situation with that in the Republic of Ireland. They had no abortion to any extent and the result is that the Irish are a nation of young people. The median age of Ireland is 34.6 years. 40 percent of the population is under 25 years. Ireland has a future. Britain’s future is being disposed of as medical waste, a socially corrupting human sacrifice, offered up on the altar of selfishness and hedonism and justified by the self-delusional concept of self-fulfilment. And this is the reason that Ireland will not legalise abortion; because they want to survive as a nation; because they can see all too clearly the murderous, vice ridden hell that has been created in England. Because it is wrong in Christian terms, in philosophical terms, in human terms and in terms of self interest.

    • CraigStrachan

      “The Irish are a nation of young people”

      Who can’t find jobs in Ireland.

    • Timothy O.

      Indeed, you press young maidens into service of the rapid creasement of the Republic where otherwise they might escape their broad hips’ duty by English ferry in the night.

    • kwestion.all

      ” They had no abortion to any extent and the result is that the Irish are a nation of young people”
      Except that thousands of Irish women do go to Britain to have abortions. Or to put it another way, there is such thing as Irish abortion, It’s just that it happens in another country. This is what could be described as displaced moral hippocracy, pretending or deluding yourself about the reality of this matter, just because it doesn’t take place in Ireland.

  • Sarah

    “Of course the doctors could not have predicted that their patient would contract septicaemia, far less that she would die from it.”

    Yes they could. That’s what happens when you have dead and infected flesh in your uterus.

  • mrmark1977

    It’s shameful that religious crap should have any influence over law.

  • Beefeater

    Two horrible mind-controlling powers at work: religion and national health. Where the state is God’s agent – “this is a Catholic country” – that is darkness indeed.

  • sunhu

    My sympathy for the family.
    First step-The doctors involved should be struck off for their religious beliefs influencing the treatment and gross negligence. I would also include Ignorance here.

    Like the USA, there are educated morons which include the doctors as well, whom should not allowed to enforce their beliefs on others. I hope the women in Ireland would speak up against men who enforce these stupid laws and regulations.

    • Gerry

      This has nothing to do with the doctor’s religious beliefs. As the law stands, they could have been held liable for terminating the pregnancy. All it would take is for some busybody to report them to the police and they could have been in a world of trouble. It wasn’t until after delivery that she became critically ill and so it would have been difficult for them to prove “danger to the life of the mother”.

      The problem is the law and the blanket prohibition on abortion which is still supported by a majority of the population. IN retrospect, it seems obvious that a termination would have prevented this woman’s death but this was not the case at the time. The disgrace is that doctors are put in a position that they have to leave a woman in distress to preserve the very short existence of a non-viable fetus because of the cowardice of politicians who refuse to properly define in law the parameters for abortion in Ireland. I can’t imagine how her husband is feeling right now. The whole expat Indian community in Galway is in mourning.

      • yanquetino

        Ah… well… better for doctors to let a patient suffer and DIE than “be held liable” and get “in a world of trouble” themselves!? The cowardice applies to the politicians and doctors alike, then.

      • http://www.facebook.com/trialia Trialia Alexandra Hall

        That is NOT true. She was there with her cervix dilated and her womb and the dying fetus thus exposed to her vaginal flora and a HUGE risk of infection for three days before they did anything. Read the article again: she had already developed septicaemia before the fetal heartbeat stopped and the medical staff decided to deliver. The medical guidelines in such a case are to deliver immediately, as a fetus of 17 weeks duration would die in any case, and she was at risk from systemic infection – which they COULD have predicted might kill her! – for days because they refused to perform the termination and delivery. They have NO excuse for this.

        The blanket prohibition on abortion is NOT still supported by a majority of the population. Three times over the last 20 years there have been votes on this and the majority of Irish voters decided abortion should be legal when the mother’s life is at risk (albeit in no other circumstances). As you should know if you live in Ireland as I would guess from your post you do?

        The Dail Eireann have no excuse whatsoever for not legislating this. As you say, it is cowardice, because excommunication matters more to them than saving women’s lives.

        I’m shaking right now, through fury and grief that such a thing should be allowed to happen and made excuses for in an ostensibly first-world country in 2012.

      • MikeF

        You contradict yourself there. There isn’t a ‘blanket ban’ on abortion Ireland. It is permitted when there is a danger to the life of the mother – as it is now obvious there was in this case. The doctors involved evidently did not realise that at the time and the consequences were appalling. But doctors make mistakes. The ghastly irony in this is that there was no chance of the child surviving whatever happened. At the very least the Irish government need to make clear that when the death of the child is inevitable then the medical staff can act without restriction to save the life of the mother.

        • colleen2

          “The doctors involved evidently did not realise that at the time and the consequences were appalling”

          Bullshit. They knew exactly what was happening. This wasn’t some mysterious diagnosis. Deal with reality

      • colleen2

        “As the law stands, they could have been held liable for terminating the
        pregnancy. All it would take is for some busybody to report them to the
        police and they could have been in a world of trouble”

        I am sorry that you hold medical professionals to such a low standard. Their individual and collective failure is, at best, cowardly.

  • CraigStrachan

    Any doctor involved here should be struck off for gross negligence.

    And Mr Halapannavar should sue Ireland in the ECHR.

  • Le Rit

    So what’s your point? That because in this one freak incident Ireland’s abortion law was over-zealously enforced, it’s therefore wrong to have laws against abortion?

    • Lauren

      Precisely. This was not a “freak incident”, this was misguided beliefs and sheer cruelty resulting in the tragic death of an innocent woman. Open your eyes.

    • JeannieBinVA

      This was not a “freak” accident. Pregnancy has always been among the leading causes of death for women of childbearing age; indeed, until the last century pregnancy was THE leading cause of death for women the world over. Even today, to the extent that women are denied comprehensive reproductive health care, pregnancy remains a leading cause of chronic and life-threatening illness, permanent injury, and death for girls and women.
      Moreover, this was not an “accident” at all. This hospital and its medical personnel had the means, knowledge and every capability over the course of 3 long days, from the time this woman entered the hospital, of saving her life by terminating her pregnancy. They CHOSE the dying fetus — which everyone knew had ZERO chance of survival — as being more valuable than this woman’s life, and acted accordingly to let her die. In any non-misogynistic country, their actions would be considered deliberate murder.
      And the point is, yes, it is absolutely wrong to have laws that prevent women from having the right to preserve their own health and lives.

      • Le Rit

        “This was not a “freak” accident. Pregnancy has always been among the leading causes of death for women of childbearing age; indeed, until the last century pregnancy was THE leading cause of death for women the world over.”

        Two hundred years ago, maybe. Now, not so much.

        “Even today, to the extent that women are denied comprehensive reproductive health care, pregnancy remains a leading cause of chronic and life-threatening illness, permanent injury, and death for girls and women.”

        Evidence?

        “Moreover, this was not an “accident” at all.”
        Read my post again. I said “incident”, not “accident”.

        • Talio

          Both words tend to minimize the responsibility of the medical actors involved.

    • R Blaine

      Given that the pro-“choice” movement has proven form in the area of lying, falsifying and exaggerating the facts to promote their long-standing agenda (eg http://tinyurl.com/c6gwlxm, http://tinyurl.com/cz5v2pg and http://tinyurl.com/cbfaxag), I would take any information coming from “reproductive rights activists” with a huge grain of salt. Pro-lifers exaggerate too, but in my experience they don’t tend to outright invent things as much as their opponents do.

  • Jim

    What’s the guardian’s fixation with showing nuns voting in elections? There are hardly nuns in Ireland anymore. Where do they find them?

    • Alex Massie

      1. This is the Spectator, not the Guardian. 2. Searching Getty Images for “abortion” and “Ireland” produces meagre results. 3. The 1983 abortion referendum was dominated by the church. So, 4. this image (though it dates from 2002) points usefully to the church and constitutional issues at the heart of the problem.

      • Kennybhoy

        Touchy Maister M…?

      • kevinlynch

        Ah, for God’s sake Alex. I mean…really!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=517749370 Kevin O’Connor

    Disgusting. Ashamed of my country reading this.

  • datsneefa

    Ireland… Britians puerto rico

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=517749370 Kevin O’Connor

      If you’re going to belittle a nation at least be grammatically correct when you do so.

      • tui

        Does belittle mean write with small letters? I just want to clarify.

  • Sarah

    “Of course the doctors could not have predicted that their patient would contract septicaemia, far less that she would die from it.”

    I think the coroner’s report actually says the septicaemia was reported ante mortem, so they knew she had it, but clearly didn’t think it would have such tragic consequences

  • http://twitter.com/LouMcCudden Louise McCudden

    Great piece, well said. Nice to read some sense on this terrible story.

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