Ireland contra mundum – or more accurately, mundus contra Hiberniam – seems to be the burden of shrill, not to say lurid headlines circling the globe since Wednesday of last week, when the story broke about the tragic death of a pregnant Indian woman in a Galway hospital on October 28.
But the facts surrounding this sad case and the international media’s reading of them are disturbingly out of synch. The Irish Times set the agenda for interpretation when it broke the story under the headline, “Woman ‘denied a termination’ dies in hospital”. The story being run around the world is not the sad story about an unfortunate woman’s death resulting from septicaemia caused by a miscarriage. It is a story about Ireland’s resistance to legislation allowing abortion and – in the commentariat’s view –why that resistance must now be abandoned.
What is disturbing about all this is the flight from reason and truth in the service of a propaganda campaign by Ireland’s – and the whole world’s — pro-abortion activists. Many of the facts surrounding the case are not at all clear, but one thing is certain: this tragic case is not the result of Ireland’s law protecting the unborn child. At issue is medical practice in a particular Irish hospital and whether or not the medical team involved in this case did everything they could do to save this woman’s life, as they were obliged to do by Irish law and the ethics of their profession.
What we do know is that on October 21 Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, visited Galway University Hospital suffering from back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant. She was diagnosed and was told that she was having a miscarriage. She requested a termination – but, as they had diagnosed, the termination had already begun naturally.
Irish law – and the Irish Constitution – prohibits the procedure of abortion of unborn babies in the womb but it does not prohibit evacuation of the womb where the process of a miscarriage has already begun – or where a baby in the womb has already died. Such procedures are regularly carried out in Irish hospitals. Miscarriage can, however, be wrongly diagnosed and surgical evacuation offered when the baby is still alive and healthy, as Breda O’Brien noted in an Irish Times op-ed last Saturday. One such case prompted an official inquiry two years ago in which 24 similar cases were examined.
In Savita’s case surgical intervention is evidently what should have happened. It did not. Her pain continued for three days and she eventually died of septicaemia. Two investigations are now in progress as to why she died – one by the hospital itself and one by the Irish health authority.
What has been widely reported is that doctors denied her request “for an abortion” because they said that they detected a foetal heartbeat and that Irish law ruled out a termination. Further reports say someone told Savita that this was because “Ireland is a Catholic country”. That such reasons would have been given for delaying the inducement is considered extraordinary by medical and non-medical Irish people alike. But they are equally dismayed by what they see as the callous manipulation of this situation by the abortion advocates before even the most basic investigation of the facts is carried out.
The manipulation of the situation is seen by many to be blatant and premeditated. The Irish Times, which has been campaigning for changes to Irish law on abortion for many years, had this story for some days before publishing it. Within hours of the story breaking a large demonstration by pro-choice activists had assembled outside the Irish parliament building. An email has now been leaked – the source as yet unknown – showing that news of the story was given in advance to these activists. The e-mail, dated Sunday, November 11, indicates that the Irish Choice Network knew the story was going to break. The Irish Times did not break the story publicly until November 14th.
The email told ICN members that “a major news story in relation to abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week,” and it would be the pretext for a protest calling for abortion legislation outside the Dáil (Ireland’s parliament) on Wednesday. Members were asked to attend a meeting where they would have “more definite information around which we can make some collective decisions about how best to proceed.”
“Apologies if this is all a little mysterious, but the reason why I didn’t want to put specific details down by email will probably be clear tomorrow,” the sender added.
Niamh Uí Bhriain of Ireland’s Life Institute is now asking the media and the HSE (Health Services Executive) why this information seems to have been given in advance to abortion advocates. “Was it given to them by the Irish Times, or by someone in the HSE? And if so, why?” she asked. “As we await the investigation into what happened in Galway hospital, we need to know why this private patient information was given to campaigners for legalised abortion in Ireland,” she said.
For Ms Uí Bhriain it is “outrageous” to suggest that Catholic teaching would prevent proper treatment for a pregnant woman. “Neither the ethos of the Catholic Church nor the pro-life laws of Ireland would prevent any woman from receiving all the treatment she requires in order to preserve her life,” she said, adding that “abortion doesn’t cure septicaemia and isn’t a treatment for miscarriage.”
Speaking to LifeSiteNews.com she said that Ireland’s laws already prioritise the life of the mother. Under the current law, doctors who fail to intervene to save a woman’s life are subject to disciplinary action for negligence. “Far from … the pro-life laws putting undue pressure to save the life of the unborn child, they put additional measures to protect the life of the mother,” she said. She explained that “the Irish Medical Council guidelines are incredibly clear, that the doctors must intervene to save a woman’s life, if they don’t they’re guilty of misconduct.”
What disturbs pro-life activists in Ireland is what they see as very selective reporting on the issue – especially in The Irish Times, the perceived paper of record. 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. There was little coverage of this in the papers and nothing on national television.
“What is rarely reported are the many cases of women who have died from infection or other causes because of supposedly safe and legal abortions,” says Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the UK.
He names Manon Jones, Jessie-Maye Barlow and Emma Beck who all died of complications of abortion in Britain in recent years. He also points to findings of the World Health Organisation that show the Republic of Ireland, with some of the strictest pro-life laws in the world, also has the world’s best record in maternal health. By contrast, Great Britain and the United States, with their high abortion rates, have relatively poor maternal health records.
Earlier this year an international group of 140 obstetricians and other physicians meeting in Dublin issued a statement denying that abortion is ever “medically necessary” for women. This received no coverage in mainline Irish broadcast media and minimal coverage in print media.
The coverage of Savita Halappanavar’s death in the Indian press has also been less than balanced and the remarks of the Indian Ambassador to Ireland, Debashish Chakravarti, in particular, have been deeply resented by some here.
Speaking on Irish radio, Mr Chakravarti said the death was a matter of deep regret to the Indian people and that he hoped the inquiry into the events surrounding the death would be conducted quickly — but not so fast as to affect the quality of the investigation.
Mr Chakravarti told Morning Ireland, the national radio stations news programme, that the death is being taken with “great seriousness” in India, and that “there is significant anguish, pain and sadness among the Indian community here about the development.”
Asked what he thought the episode said about Ireland as a State, Mr Chakravarti said he should not comment as a representative of a foreign government.
What no one asked him was how he might explain the difference between Irish and Indian maternal death rates. The facts are that the maternal death rate in Ireland without abortion is 6 per 100,000 live births. The rate in the UK where abortion is legal is 12 per 100,000. In the US the figure is 21. In India, which has had a liberal abortion law since 1972 — and where the practice is out of control — there are 212 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
It is very clear to anyone who looks at the figures that Ireland without abortion is safer than its nearest neighbours in the UK and far safer than India. Nevertheless, abortion activists’ hysteria over Savita’s death has caught on in India and had the bizarre effect of bringing hostile demonstrators out in front of the Irish Embassy in New Delhi. Indian authorities have had to put an armed cordon around the place.
Ireland’s pro-life activists for their part are calling for the government to resist the opportunistic hue and cry for legalised abortion and concentrate on establishing the facts of the case. Whatever the facts are, they cannot justify dismantling Ireland’s legal and constitutional protections for the unborn child which so far have been consistent with one the best maternal health records in the world.
Michael Kirke is the editor of MercatorNet’s Conjugality blog. He also blogs at Garvan Hill.