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O'Toole writes: "In beautiful Galway, my home town, Savita Halappanavar died in the hospital I was born in after being denied a potentially life-saving abortion."

A woman holds a picture of Savita Halappanavar in protest outside University Hospital Galway. (photo: Cathal Mcnaughton/Reuters)
A woman holds a picture of Savita Halappanavar in protest outside University Hospital Galway. (photo: Cathal Mcnaughton/Reuters)

I Am Ashamed That Ireland's Medieval Abortion Law Still Stands

By Emer O'Toole, Guardian UK

16 November 12


Blame for denying Savita Halappanavar a termination lies with all of us who keep quiet about abortion rights

n beautiful Galway, my home town, Savita Halappanavar died in the hospital I was born in after being denied a potentially life-saving abortion. She presented with back pain, and was found to be miscarrying. A day of agony later, knowing her pregnancy couldn't survive, she asked for a termination, but was refused. "This is a Catholic country," she was allegedly told.

As long as the foetal heart kept beating doctors would not grant her wish. It beat for three days. Halappanavar vomited, shook and collapsed. On the third day the weak sound faded to nothing and doctors removed the dead foetus. A week after she was first admitted to hospital, Halappanavar died of septicaemia.

This is a Catholic country. If these were indeed the words used by the doctors, then the hospital did not feel the need to sugarcoat its rationale with references to Halappanavar's psychological health, or the wellbeing of her foetus. Its ideology was not veiled - as Youth Defence, Precious Life and Ireland's other powerful anti-abortion lobbyists have learned to do - in the language of care and concern for women. The rationale was not cloaked in academic arguments about the moment when human life begins.

Halappanavar objected that she was neither Irish nor a Catholic: a futile attempt to appeal for choice over what was happening to her body. As a medical professional, she most likely knew that her 17-week-old foetus would not be conscious of its existence ending. But her appeal to value her life over an insentient foetus's heartbeat was ignored. There is no abortion on the pope's own island and she had no time to get to England.

I am no longer a Catholic, so I need to look for earthly explanations as to what happened to Halappanavar. The medical technology to prevent this painful, senseless death was at hand. Yet doctors did not use it. Why? One could argue that they had to obey Irish law. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, speaking of defences mounted by the perpetrators of atrocities during the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt says that adult citizens cannot obey. Children and animals can obey, but adults have the capacity to morally assess the actions that their sociopolitical systems demand of them.

Adults do not obey, they consent. And yes, the system might punish you for failing to carry out its evil will - for choosing to remove a dying, insensate foetus from the womb of a woman in agony who is begging you to do so - but fear of consequence does not absolve you. To those doctors who continued to check for a heartbeat as Halappanavar deteriorated, this is also your fault.

I know what it's like to try to speak out against anti-choice hegemony in Ireland. I know how hard it is to even form pro-choice opinions at all. Like 95% of people schooled in Ireland, I had a Catholic education and was heavily propagandised against abortion. More, I had to navigate the biased information offered by the Irish press. RTÉ, our national broadcaster, did not even report on a 2,000-strong pro-choice march in Dublin earlier this year, while it continues to cover anti-abortion movements in the provinces. Teachers and journalists, this is your fault too.

Of course, this is made difficult in a country in which the entire political system, against the will of the electorate, enforces medieval attitudes to abortion. In 1992 the supreme court ruled that a suicidal teenage rape victim had the right to an abortion. In the referendum that followed, Irish people voted to uphold this judgment. Yet, 20 years later, no government has been brave enough to legislate. In 2010 the European court of human rights ruled against the Irish state in favour of a woman who had to travel to the UK to terminate a pregnancy while undergoing chemotherapy. Still Enda Kenny, our devoutly Catholic taoiseach, has said that abortion is "not of priority" for his government. Kenny, James Reilly, the health minister, and every other Dáil member - this is your fault too. You are responsible for the pain Halappanavar's loved ones are going through.

To her family, I want to say: I am ashamed, I am culpable, and I am sorry. For every letter to my local politician I didn't write, for every protest I didn't join, for keeping quiet about abortion rights in the company of conservative relations and friends, for becoming complacent, for thinking that Ireland was changing, for not working hard enough to secure that change, for failing to create a society in which your wife, your daughter, your sister was able to access the care that she needed: I am sorry. You must think that we are barbarians. your social media marketing partner


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+35 # thekidde 2012-11-16 10:07
Religious zeolotry has caused more human suffering than just about any other segment of society. What a "god" these people worship - one who doesn't value reality, but rather blind obedience to ignorance and cruelty.
+8 # readerz 2012-11-16 12:43
Aside from Papal questions (more below), the religious question is clear. Jesus asked those who questioned when he said "Your sins are forgiven," and he answered, "which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or take up your bed and walk?" and then he healed the paralytic. But the main point is: those who are against healing (health care) are also against forgiveness, and choose to heal only when they might look morally pure. If they have no power to forgive themselves (if they find a fault, and obviously since the fetus was going to die, there was no fault), then they should have no license to heal.

What is needed for this murder: international investigation, international sanctions, international trial of the murderers, international boycott. For God's sake, we still have sanctions on Cuba, even though they have made more baby steps towards freedom than China has.

I am especially angry, because Ireland has no idea about its own history or the Papacy, which has never supported Ireland, and the Papacy has supported abortion when it feels it is necessary, as in Sardinia.
-12 # The Voice of Reason 2012-11-17 00:53
You're right. It's far better to let these unborn children die without a chance, because the girl who got knocked up is too busy to handle it.

How many abortions are performed each year? I've seen 1 million, but is that accurate?
+19 # hilo 2012-11-16 10:32
No. Those who are in Halappanavar's situation KNOW that you're Barbarians.
+35 # Regina 2012-11-16 10:39
Amazing! The all-male Church hierarchy claims that abortion is murder, but consigning a woman to a horrible death (in which the fetus will also die!) is God's will -- ??? This atrocity must NEVER again be allowed. The government must remain secular, in every country, and must prevail over the religious zealotry in its ignorant decrees and demands.
+22 # reiverpacific 2012-11-16 11:19
A statement from the Pope should be DEMANDED after this.
The Republican Irish people have suffered long enough at the hands of Pedophile priests and the arrogant Protestant English would-be conquerors. Enough! It's a 21st Century country now, debts and all.
Of course it's up to the people to change it and the measure went down narrowly the last time the subject was voted on with much intimidation from the Vatican and Bishops, stoking their guilt-fueled fires heavily from their pulpits!
I have a dear fried from (Northern) Ireland here in Oregon who wears black on St. Paddy's Day, stating to all who ask her -and emphatically at that- that "There's fook-all to celebrate in the comin' of Catholicism to Ireland!!".
I love Ireland -it was always my favorite Rugby International excursion against Scotland when I lived over there but the omnipresence of the Catholic Church is palpable, especially in the rural areas. The hospitality of her people, pubs and traditional music are her joy, the domination and influence of the Roman church her shame and a flush-out is overdue.
+3 # readerz 2012-11-16 12:58
Ask the Pope about the abortions he condones in Sardinia to protect children from the genetic disease thalassemia.
+3 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2012-11-16 16:32
Could you please provide a citation from a legitimate website for this? I've spent hours searching and not found anything to support your statement.

I am currently in a debate on abortion and would love to have proof of the HRCC's hypocrisy. However, I do not want to profer this tidbit only to find that it is the delusional product of some rabid anti-Catholic,
+23 # DaveM 2012-11-16 11:50
"Pro-life"--hah ! What about this woman's life? She received a death sentence....for being pregnant.

I do not know about Ireland, but in the United States, willful neglect resulting in someone's death is manslaughter at the very least. Where are the criminal charges?
+17 # readerz 2012-11-16 12:33
Ohio is about to put a similar "heartbeat" law on the books. The war on women in the United States isn't over. Is it criminal to treat rape victims as though they deserved it?
+25 # Archie1954 2012-11-16 11:57
The doctors and hospital are responsible for her death. They broke their Hippocratic oath to first do no harm. They killed this woman through gross negiligence and misfeance. To now say they were just following orders is disgusting and no defense whatsoever.
+6 # Texas Aggie 2012-11-16 15:44
Granted that the doctors who refused her request are completely culpable and need to face jail time, but along with them, those who instituted the program need to accept their responsibility, too. To just punish the doctors for their crime is like going after Lynndie England and letting Rumsfeld off the hook.
+8 # cafetomo 2012-11-16 12:23
Philosophical contrivance, to be considered one of the more despotic elements of a dark age. When is a living person to be considered more than an abstraction? For now, such sanctimonious hairsplitting effectively legitimizes murder, just as it allows legitimate rape in the U.S.. In more enlightened times, these spiritual fabrications will be our shame, their only vindication in those ending it.
+12 # readerz 2012-11-16 12:31
Several points:
I have researched false papal claims in Ireland. The Pallium of independence was given to St. Patrick by Pope Celestine in 432. They were in allegiance to Rome, but as equal Bishops. In 1172, Pope Adrian Breakspeare wrote the "Donation" of Ireland to England, and after that England invaded and ruled Ireland with a heavy hand for almost 800 years. Never once did a Pope go to war for the sake of Ireland to free it from oppression. The first time a Pope ever visited Ireland was in 1979, long after the Consecration of St. Patrick; long after the Donation of Pope Adrian.

Meanwhile, in the island of Sardinia, a genetic disease thalassemia, abortion is encouraged because the people of Sardinia use the Papal health insurance!!!!! From Ethics and Prenatal Diagnosis, the Journal: pp. 999-1024 in Genetic Disorders and the Fetus: Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment, eds. Milunsky, A. (John Hopkins University Press 1998). Author: Darryl R. J. Macer, "Approximately 90 percent of possible cases are now prevented by the use of prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion."

So, Ireland is not following Papal protocol, which does not allow for "situational ethics." If in Sardinia, so should it go in Ireland, that is, if Ireland were a theocracy, or if the Pope even cared about Ireland.

Because Ireland has murdered a woman for no reason, there should be an international trial, international sanctions, and boycotts.
+5 # tabonsell 2012-11-16 18:06
I am to understand that the Catholic Church is part of Christianity. And Christianity is based on the philosophy, teachings and actions of Jesus Christ; nothing more, nothing less.

There is no evidence that Christ ever said anything about woman curtailing a pregnancy; therefore abortion is not part of his philosophy. Of course he never uttered a derogatory word about homosexuals. He never denied the existence of evolution or many other dogmas of modern religion, and since many so-called Christians claim he was God incarnate, one would think he knew something about these subjects.

It seems that the Church, as well as every other sect claiming to be Christian, is adding its own biases to the Christ philosophy. And the Bible they all constantly thump in the face of everyone else says they cannot add to or subtract from the established doctrine.

We have to then question the legitimacy of most "Christian" organizations.
+2 # rsstein 2012-11-17 05:53
I have said that people are entitled to their own opinions, SO LONG AS THEY DO NOT IMPOSE THEM ON OTHERS. This was a situation where they WERE IMPOSED. Is it not a bit like what was done in Germany in sending people to death camps because they differed in their religious neliefs?
+1 # jesu 2015-09-22 05:02
How does one prove that if the baby were removed, she would not have died of septicaemia?

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