Last month, in the 17th week of her pregnancy, Savita Halappanavar started to miscarry.  Admitted to hospital doctors informed her that the fetus had no chance.  However since the fetus still had a heart beat doctors cited Irish law and evidently the phrase above in refusing to permit a medical termination of the pregnancy.  So the 31 year old dentist was kept in hospital for two and a half days of agony until the heart beat stopped.  However, by then she had contracted septicemia.  She died four days later.

I have trouble expressing just how angry this callous death sentence passed on Savita Halappanavar by Ireland’s almost total ban on abortion makes me.  This was not a case where the fetus had a chance to survive.  But rather than limit the tragedy by saving the mother, they kept her in agony until it was too late to save her.  The medical necessity of the mother was trumped by the religion based ban imposed by the law.  This death occurred a month after a bunch of so called doctors issued a statement that abortion was not medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant mother.

This is not a scenario totally alien to the United States.  The platform of one of our parties calls for an absolute ban on abortion, which could lead to deaths like this.  The loosely drafted personhood amendments that right wing groups have placed on various state ballots could also prevent medically necessary pregnancies like these.  Then there is the compassionate Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix who excommunicated a nun who as an administrator of a Catholic hospital allowed a medical termination of a pregnancy to save the life of the mother.  The Bishop then followed it up by stripping the hospital of its Catholic status – probably inadvertently improving the caliber of healthcare available to women.

Many Irish have expressed their shame and anger at the death of Savita Halappanavar.  However, the question is whether this finally leads to a change in Irish law and permits doctors to respond to obstetric emergencies.  If it does, the tragic and senseless death of Savita Halappanavar will not have been in vain.

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