The Savita Inquest Concludes

Last month, the official inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar concluded. In a tragic irony, the jury delivered its verdict on the very date that would have been her fifth wedding anniversary.

In my last post, I pessimistically predicted that the final report would take the anti-choice position that abortion should be forbidden until the woman is clearly dying and then blaming the doctors if they can’t pull her back from the brink. To my surprise, that isn’t what happened. Instead, after less than three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of “medical misadventure” that strongly endorsed all nine recommendations by the coroner, including that Irish law should clearly specify exactly when abortion is permitted to save the woman’s life. (They were doubtless influenced by searing testimony from obstetrician Dr. Peter Boylan, who said it was “highly likely” that Savita wouldn’t have died if she had obtained an abortion in time.)

In response to the inquest, after twenty-plus years of foot-dragging and delay, Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s government has finally introduced a bill clarifying when abortion is legal. This is, at most, an extremely tiny and hesitant step forward: it applies only in cases of risk to the woman’s life, and as written, it doesn’t even address rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality. Even if it’s passed, the vast majority of Irish women seeking abortion will still have to travel to the U.K., as they’ve been doing for decades.

And yet, even this incredibly narrow and tightly circumscribed expansion of reproductive choice in Ireland has faced bitter opposition from anti-choicers, including legislators from Kenny’s own party, whose open disdain for women’s lives is breathtaking. As the A.P. article says:

Anti-abortion activists, including many in Kenny’s own Fine Gael party, protest that the proposed law could become a platform for eventual wider access to abortion in Ireland…. Activists particularly oppose the bill’s provisions for women who threaten to kill themselves if they are denied a termination.

These opponents, all religious conservatives, see a slippery slope in any expansion of women’s rights, even one limited to interventions that are strictly and undeniably necessary to save a woman’s life. Like many anti-choicers, they’d rather see both the woman and the fetus die than to intervene and save the only life that can be saved in that situation.

And if you had any remaining doubt that the Roman Catholic church wants abortion banned even when it’s essential to save the woman’s life, this article should lay those doubts to rest:

The Catholic Church in Ireland on Friday condemned the government’s abortion legislation, which would permit abortions in cases where a threat existed to a woman’s life, including from suicide. The church called the legislation “a dramatically and morally unacceptable change to Irish law.”

…After the statement was issued, Cardinal Sean Brady told RTE, the national broadcaster, that the bishops believed the legislation was a denial of religious freedom.

…In February, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and the head of the Vatican court, urged priests to withdraw communion from politicians who supported abortion legislation in Ireland. He told The Catholic Voice newspaper that the legalization of abortion in Ireland would create a “culture of death.”

Legislation to save lives creates a culture of death, and respecting Catholic religious freedom means forcing pregnant women to die. This is the apotheosis of evil absurdity. As long as these viewpoints command respect, there will be more Savitas, and I’m not just saying that: right now in El Salvador, another pregnant woman’s life hangs in the balance. Beatriz (first name only) is 22 years old and five months pregnant, and her fetus is anencephalic – lacking a brain – and will never be viable. She’s suffering from a life-threatening autoimmune condition which her pregnancy is worsening, and her doctors say that termination is necessary to treat it. But El Salvador is another country where Roman Catholic doctrines prohibiting abortion in all cases hold sway, and the courts continue to stall while her life hangs in the balance.

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