“Unseemly rush to judgment”

Whipped-up fury

The unseemly – to put it mildly – opportunism of the pro-choice campaigners in Ireland and further afield is deeply disturbing in both its callousness and deceitfulness with regard to the tragic death of the young Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, who died in a Galway hospital from the side-effects of a miscarriage earlier this month.

The pro-choice campaign – ably assisted by a swathe of national and international media, as pointed out by David Quinn in today’s Irish Independent – has not only rushed to judgemnt on what really happened in this case but has totally misrepresented the Irish law on abortion in dealing with the matter. They simply see this as a cause célèbre which they are going to make the most of to try to represent Irish law prohibiting abortion as a medieval and barbaric relic. Truth is once again being sacrificed on the altar of their relentless campaign to force the Irish Government to legislate for abortion.

The spin being put on the story from the time it first broke is that Savita Halappanavar died because she was denied an abortion. The truth is that this is not why she died.

As David Quinn points out:

We know this because if there was a need to end her pregnancy in order to save her life, then the hospital was free to do that. Nothing in law was preventing the hospital from doing so.

And to be absolutely clear, ending a woman’s pregnancy prematurely is not necessarily the same thing as abortion.

For example, inducing labour where it is necessary to save the life of the mother is not the same as abortion and Irish hospitals induce labour in these circumstances on a regular basis.

From the available facts, we know that Mrs Halappanavar was miscarrying and that she died within days of being admitted to hospital from septicemia and E Coli ESBL.

We do not know for certain whether ending the pregnancy upon her arrival in the hospital would have saved her life, but to repeat, if medical staff needed to do that they could have done it.

Therefore the ‘woman dies because she was denied abortion’ storyline is simply not true. The ‘woman dies because of Catholic opposition to abortion’ is also not true.

We simply do not know for certain at this stage whether Mrs Halappanavar would have died no matter what was done. This is what the investigation into her death will ascertain.

And we must also repeat for the umpteenth time that Ireland has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world. It is lower than the British rate where abortion is available on demand.

In addition, it is necessary to remind ourselves that sometimes women die because of botched abortions in legal settings. Indeed, last year a doctor – Phanuel Dartey – was struck off in Britain because he nearly killed an Irish woman while performing an abortion on her in a Marie Stopes Clinic in the UK.

This story received remarkably little publicity here in Ireland. RTE did not cover it at all, whereas it has given the Savita Halappanavar story wall-to-wall coverage. Why this discrepancy?

And by what journalistic calculus did RTE decide to give so little coverage to the revelation by this newspaper that some staff at pregnancy crisis agencies in Ireland are giving women dangerous and illegal advice? It would be good to know.

There has been a tremendous and unseemly rush to judgment in this case.

In the same paper an opinion piece by Eílís Mulroy, one of Ireland’s leading pro-life advocates, quotes the comments of  Professor John Bonnar, one of Ireland’s leading gynaecologists, to a parliamentary committee some years ago explaining  that “In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention is required at a stage in pregnancy when there will be little or no prospect for the survival of the baby, due to extreme immaturity.

“In these exceptional situations failure to intervene may result in the death of both the mother and baby. We consider that there is a fundamental difference between abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of the baby, for example for social reasons, and the unavoidable death of the baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother.”

It is clear that currently accepted ethical standards of medical practice in Ireland, if applied to this case, could not have been the cause of this sad death.  Something else was wrong here and we will have to await the results of the investigations now being carried out to find what precisely that was.

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