There is a terrible tragedy in Ireland that’s giving fresh perspective to the abortion debate, especially in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to the University Hospital in Galway, Ireland with severe back pain. She was told that she was in the process of miscarrying. For three days, the 31-year-old woman asked for a medical termination of the pregnancy while suffering through extreme pain. However, the hospital refused to perform the abortion, leading to complications that ended up costing Savita her life.
Savita’s husband says that the hospital refused to perform the medical procedure his wife needed because there was still a fetal heartbeat detectable. She was even told by hospital personnel, “This is a Catholic country.” Of course, by the time the baby’s heartbeat had stopped and the doctors agreed to remove the fetus, the damage was too great to the mother as well. Savita Halappanavar died due to septicaemia a week after entering the hospital.
The tragic loss of life has launched investigations into the actions of the hospital, as it well should. Even though abortion is illegal in Ireland, there are exceptions for situations where the life of the woman is in danger. Obviously, this case met that criteria, and yet a young woman is still gone.
The problem is that people truly don’t understand the dangers of pregnancy and the possible consequences for women when things go wrong. We saw that type of ignorance here in the United States, when soon-to-be-former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh said that abortion to save the life of the mother was never medically necessary. In fact, Walsh said, “with modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance” in which a woman would actually die if she continued to carry a pregnancy. Well, Mr. Walsh, here’s one horribly sad instance.
It is sad enough that women in Ireland are unable to make their own medical decisions regarding reproductive health, no matter what the cause or circumstance. It is horrible to find that they aren’t even able to stay safe and healthy because some believe that the contents of a woman’s uterus is more important than her own life.
Savita Halappanavar was already miscarrying. Her doctors determined that when she got to the hospital. Her pregnancy hadn’t hit even the earliest estimates of fetal viability, which is normally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks. There was no chance that her pregnancy, no matter how wanted and cherished, would have ended with a healthy baby. Yet, those doctors held on. They refused that abortion without any regard for the possible consequences. And Savita paid the price.
It’s hard to say much more about this case, aside from how sad it is. A woman was denied the medical care she needed. Now a man has lost his wife. Parents have lost their daughter. This was a possibly preventable death. Unfortunately, Savita’s life didn’t seem to be the doctor’s top priority.