The death of a pregnant woman has led to international media coverage as abortion advocates condemn Ireland’s ban on abortion. Savita Halappanavar died on Oct. 28 at University College Hospital in Galway from septicaemia after a miscarriage. The case is now being investigated by the hospital and Ireland’s Health and Safety Executive.
Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, told the media that on Oct. 20, his wife had experienced back pain and asked if the baby could be aborted. The request was denied. The baby died on October 24, but Savita’s condition kept getting worse, and she died four days later after some organs stopped functioning.
While the story was broken by the Irish Times on Nov. 14, a leaked email from Nov. 11 shows that the abortion advocacy Irish Choice Network already knew about the case, predicting that “a major news story in relation to abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week” and calling on members to attend a meeting.
Although the case is still under investigation, the media has been quick to blame Savita’s death on Ireland’s abortion ban. Headlines include: “Senseless death of Irish woman exposes grim reality for women,” in the Toronto Star – in fact three of the four Toronto papers featured a story on the case within the first three pages – and “After Savita Halappanavar’s death, the brutal irony of ‘pro-life’ is exposed” in the Guardian.
A blog post by Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, though, states that a 1992 Supreme Court decision (X Case) permits abortion in Ireland if there is a “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life. This same provision is granted in s. 21.4 of Ireland’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners.
Even so, as Dr. Saunders points out, Ireland has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, even beating the United States and United Kingdom. “As there are about 75,000 live births per year in Ireland this means that there are an average of four maternal deaths per year from all causes,” he writes. “If the law did change Ireland would probably still have a maternal death rate that was well below that in the UK … but there would be thousands more babies who would lose their lives.”
In a press release, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, stated, “Rather than removing the protection of the womb from unborn children, the ethical response to emergency situations in pregnancy is medical treatment of the mother for the conditions causing the emergency. In the case of infection, this is usually timely administration of antibiotics.” Tully added: “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.”