Tragic Death In Ireland Reveals Problems with Legislating Medical Procedures

This week the tragic story of Savita Halappanavar, who died after being refused a medically necessary abortion, has led to renewed discussion over the legalization of abortion both in the U.S. around the World. Savita Halappanavar was an Indian woman living in Ireland with her husband. She was 17 weeks pregnant with a wanted child when she went to the hospital due to severe back pain.  It was discovered within hours of her arrival at the hospital that she was miscarrying the pregnancy.  She asked repeatedly over a three-day period for termination of the non-viable fetus, and was denied each time and told, “this is a Catholic Country.” The fetus died on the third day and the termination was carried out. By this point Savita had contracted a severe blood disease. She was taken to intensive care and died not long after. According to the Irish Times, the consultant said, ‘As long as there is a fetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

The legality of abortion in Ireland is a tricky subject. Ireland’s constitution forbids abortion, however abortion in cases of the health or life of the mother were permitted by a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, although no legislation was ever passed to comply with this ruling. The Physicians in Savita’s case said without waiting for the fetus to die naturally they could have suffered imprisonment. This is a sad example of what can happen when politics are allowed to dictate health care. Physicians should not have to weigh the politics of religion when making medical decisions about the health of their patients.

While Ireland is 80 percent Catholic, Savita and her husband were Hindus, and her family is now speaking out against Irelands use of Catholic morality to dictate legislation. “How many more cases will there be? The rules should be changed as per the requirement of Hindus. We are Hindus, not Christians,” Mahadevi, Halappanavar’s mother said.

It is not difficult to draw correlations between this story and the reproductive health debate that has been raging in the U.S.. The Ohio state legislature is currently debating a fetal heartbeat bill that would make abortion illegal as soon as there is a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as 7 weeks into a pregnancy, and often occurs before the women is even aware she is pregnant. Additionally, number of extremist anti-choice legislators, and candidates in the recent 2012 Election, have spoken out against legal abortion even in severe cases, like the recently defeated Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) who claimed there are no instances in which pregnancy would endanger the woman’s life.  In the 2012 legislative session, the House passed a bill called the “Protect Life Act,” although widely known as the “Let Women Die Act” that would allow hospitals to deny women emergency abortions due to claims of “personal conscience.” And there are currently over thirty lawsuits being filed against the contraception mandate, claiming that allowing their employees to have access to birth control violates their religious freedom.

America should learn from the terrible story of Savita Halappanavar that neither politics, nor religion should play a role in determining the appropriate medical care for patients.


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