The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar should not be manipulated to liberalise Ireland’s new abortion law
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway.
The young dentist, 17 weeks pregnant, had asked for an abortion but the hospital refused and she died of sepsis on October 28, 2012. This tragic event was used by abortion campaigners as a hammer to legalise abortion in Ireland. Thousands marched in protest and the government held an inquiry. In a 2018 referendum the Irish people voted to repeal a pro-life amendment to Irish Constitution which had protected the life of the unborn.
The anniversary of Savita’s death will be marked by a march calling for further abortion reforms. Activists want to dismantle the few safeguards that are left.
Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, has said that "the ongoing criminalisation of abortion ... was a significant barrier in terms of access ... the legislation could have gone much further post referendum. It didn't and this review is the opportunity now."
But Savita did not die because she was unable to have an abortion. The Arulkumaran report on her death, published in 2013, did not find that an abortion would have saved her life, although it did identify a number of procedural failures. The cause of death was sepsis, E.coli in the bloodstream and a miscarriage.
In fact, Ireland before the referendum had one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world – far lower than the United States, where abortion was readily available.
Despite all this, Savita’s memory continues to be cynically manipulated by the abortion lobby.
I emailed Dr John Bruchalski, a gynaecologist who has one of the largest free-standing pro-life medical practices in the United States, and asked for his clinical opinion of the case of Savita Halappanavar. He has some expertise in this as he used to perform abortions. (His autobiography, Two Patients: My Conversion from Abortion to Life-Affirming Medicine, was published earlier this month.)
He told me that:
"She was with child and her fetus/unborn child was approximately 17 weeks gestation ... Her water broke and her membranes were already at her introitus if I remember correctly. Apparently, the physicians on duty did not think there was an infection, endometritis, brewing or developing and they took a wait-and-see attitude. She developed sepsis …
Infection is a common cause of preterm birth with a rising white blood cell count. Because sepsis, like haemorrhage is a common cause of maternal morbidity and mortality, AND her child was far from viability, we life affirming physicians would target the infected placental membranes with oxytocin…as soon as sepsis or even infection was suspected…. to remove the abscess from the mom’s body, and under the principle of double effect, the death of the child is the foreseen but not direct intention of the procedure of induction. We treat the disease always, in this case the infection of the placental membranes, probably because of the time those membranes were spent sitting in the birth canal/vagina. We never directly intend the death of the unborn.
Elective abortion is when the unborn child/fetus is considered the bad actor that must be neutralized to save the mom’s life. It is devastating to Mom to speak to her like this, putting her life against that of her unborn child. Life affirming doctors NEVER pit mom against her child. A healthy mom is good medicine for a healthy fetus/unborn child."
Because our logic and language have become so malleable and mushy these days, most people do not see the moral or practical or medical difference but we do because words and thoughts still matter in rational discourse and in eternity’s judgement."
Another consultant with decades of experience in intensive care medicine told me:
"No direct attack on the foetus can be made. But if the source of sepsis was amnionitis/endometritis, the current evidence is that the sepsis should be treated by medical means (antibiotics etc.). But if the sepsis is overwhelming and endangering the life of the mother, we can proceed to evacuate the septic tissue and, as an unintended but foreseen consequence, the death of the foetus occurs."
So, both clinicians are in agreement that the principle of double effect applies:
1) The treatment procedure is morally neutral.
2) The intention is to treat the disease. The death of the foetus is an unintended but foreseen consequence.
3) The means of saving the mother's life is treating the disease. The death of the baby is not the means by which her life is saved.
4) Saving the life of the mother is a proportionately grave reason to tolerate the unintended death of the baby.
Does this mean that Savita Halappanavar's death should not have been exploited to change the abortion law in Ireland? It would seem so. There are reasons why the maternal mortality rates were lower in Ireland than in Britain when Ireland was a pro-life nation. Clinicians in Ireland understood the principle of double effect reasoning.
Does this mean that the people of Ireland were duped? Were the people of Kansas recently duped when they voted in favour of abortion believing that pro-abortion laws are needed in order to save the life of the mother? It would seem so. I fear that people in many other states and nations are going to be duped in a similar fashion.
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