Irish Bishops Issue Statement About Death of Savita Halappanavar

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has released a statement concerning the death of Savita Halappanavar.

The statement, without edits or comments, is below.

The death of Mrs. Savita Halappanavar and her unborn child in University Hospital Galway on the 28 October last was a devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family. It has stunned our country. We share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances and we express our sympathy to the family of Mrs. Halappanavar and all those affected by these events.

In light of the widespread discussion following the tragic death of Mrs Halappanavar and her unborn baby, we wish to reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching. These were set out in our recently published Day for Life message on 7 October last, available on

- The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.

- Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

- Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.

- Some would claim that the unborn baby is less human or less deserving of life. Advances in genetics and technology make it clear that at fertilization a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence. From that moment onwards each of us did not grow and develop into a human being, but grew and developed as a human being.

With many other religious and ethical traditions we believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice. This helps to ensure that women and babies receive the highest standard of care and protection during pregnancy.

Indeed, international statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth. This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland.

  • Dr. Peter John Resweber

    Thanks for finding and posting this!

  • Manny

    I’m glad I saw this too. Thank you.

  • Peg

    Many thanks too! I love the distinction that the child grows AS a human being rather than INTO a human. I will never understand why there is so much hostility toward caring and respecting both lives. Over at Huffpost there are so many brutal comments. Everyone is a medical expert and the Catholic Church is blamed.

    This is a very tragic story. It is also a grave tragedy that a young woman lost her life in Chicago after a botched abortion ended her life. Planned Parenthood let her bleed for 5 hours before calling an ambulance and then would not provide necessary medical information to paramedics. Where is the outrage there?

    Today I heard the reference “compulsory pregnancy industry”. Just when I think I can’t be shocked anymore…

    This is a great and clear explanation of Catholic teaching and will help me better defend the Church’s beautiful and complete views of life.

    • Ashley

      The second and third clauses of that statement are exactly what killed Savita Halappanavar and others like her over the years and have endangered many more lives. That’s the source of the hostility that you are unable to understand. Adherence to your church’s doctrine kills women who would otherwise live.

      Hopefully her horrible and unnecessary death will prompt governments to institute new and more ethical medical guidelines that protect women from Catholic doctrine.

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        Ashley, I’ve asked for some research about Irish law in this matter, but haven’t gotten any answers yet. When I do, I’ll discuss what the law says about abortion in Ireland. That, and not Catholic doctrine, is the major question concerning this tragedy. Once I understand what the law says, then I can at least comment about it. As things are, all I have are the press accounts.

      • Dave

        Since you are apparently privy to more details about the circumstances leading to the death of Ms. Halappanavar than the rest of us, why don’t you fill us in on the details of exactly how those clauses led to her death?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Manny, Peter, Peg, you are welcome. I’m glad you find this useful.

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  • Ted Seeber

    I sure would like to see Cesarean birth become the normal treatment in such situations, regardless of the time from conception of the child. This would accomplish three things:
    1. bring out the child intact, thus avoiding septicemia complications.
    2. encourage continued research into alternative artificial wombs- currently a 21 week from conception child has a 5% chance of survival. With more cases, there is much that could be learned in this area that could one day utterly replace the medical need for abortion.
    3. Respect the life of both mother and child- even if the child only survives outside of the womb for a few minutes. What a wonderful pro-life statement THAT would be.

    • Sus

      Rebecca, I haven’t seen this statement anywhere else. I pray for her and her family. The whole thing is a tragedy no matter what happened.

      Ted, I think non-medical people have to be careful in saying what should be done. We can read for hours but our reading will never replace medical school or experience in the trenches of medicine.

      I do agree that research for premature babies should be continued. Although the thought of an artificial womb to replace abortion makes me uncomfortable. I’ll have to think about that. The potential for abuse is huge.

      • Ted Seeber

        Worse than the 97% of abortions for generic economic fear, uncertainty, and doubt currently performed in the United States? The abuse is already happening!

        And, BTW, I got that idea from Physicians for Life, it isn’t my idea to begin with.

  • Darren

    Very carefully written. For those who may not have caught the subtleties:

    No abortion, even if the death of the mother is thus guaranteed. Full stop.

    It is, however, possible to perform a procedure if the death of the fetus is not “intentional”. One could, for example, remove the entire fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. It would be better to just cut a small slit and remove the doomed fetus, but that would be intentional. By taking out the entire tube, the result is the same so far as the fetus is concerned, but it was not the “intent”, even though it really was. For an intra-uterine pregnancy, the options are less clear (to me). By the logic above, one could presumably perform a full hysterectomy, with the fetus still inside. Others will have to confirm or deny if this is permissible.

    It is unclear if the delivery, vaginally or caesarean, of a non-viable fetus would be allowed. The language specifically states “…medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk…”. I am unsure about the Irish law or practices at Irish hospitals, but in the U.S., at some Catholic hospitals, the ethical review boards take a conservative view of that “may” (no delivery of a fetus that is too young to be viable, even at the risk of maternal death).

    • Ted Seeber

      How the heck do you get that opinion from:
      - The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.
      - Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

      Your description does NOT fit the facts.

      • Darren


        No opinion; just the teachings and statements of the Church. I suggest you reread your Catechism as regards abortion. A careful reading of the Bishop’s statement will be seen to be in line with the Catechism.

        It is a true statement that the church does not teach the life of the fetus is more valuable than the mother’s. I did not say that such was the teaching. The Church does teach that intentional abortion is wrong, period, not wrong-unless ‘x’. There is no exception for non-viability of the fetus, no exception for risk to the mother, no exceptions at all that are taught.

        Whether this amounts to an effective preference for the life of either the fetus or the mother is a conclusion that is wholly left to the reader.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Something seems to wrong in posting this.

    A smarmy and condescending way to say that elite males will control women by controlling their reproduction. Women can’t be trusted to come up with an analyses of their life situations and then make their own reproductive decisions…that must be done by allegedly celibate male professional divines.

    Somewhat hidden under the gloss of science of genetics language that is rather meaningless coming from people who very likely don’t know much about what they’re talking about, is 13th Century neo-Aristotelian philosophy that just doesn’t make much sense anymore, intellectually or morally….except perhaps to old men who have a lot invested in pretending that there is no crisis of authority in their organization. Pray explain the role of epigenetics, environment and micro-RNA…not to mention my somewhat unusual genetic disease, fathers, that make me so “unique.” Try to remember that without Nobel Prize winning research, I would have died a slow, very, very horrible death ten years or so ago.

    A gamete is a gamete and a fetus is a fetus. They are what they are, wonderful creations, but what they aren’t is “unborn babies.” A baby is a human being that I can hold in my hands and love and care for. I am a actual post-born human being, and Savita Halappanavar, recently a real, post born human being, is now needlessly dead because the authors and their organization willfully refuses to see any differences.

    I don’t see any intellectual integrity or burden of responsibility in the statement…just crocodile tear stained damage control.

    • Ted Seeber

      So, in all of that, why not just say you are prejudiced against unwanted and unplanned fetuses and think they deserve the death penalty? If you’re going to be a totalitarian genocidal maniac anyway, go all the way!

  • Peg

    It doesn’t seem there is enough known legally or medically to judge exactly what killed Savita.

    We do know however that unlicensed, unregulated, un-inspected, un-sanitary and I’ll equipped clinics like Planned Parenthood have milled women and scarred them physically and psychologically. If folks think abortion is a health right rather than intentially killing a human life, you should at the very least require that these clinics have at least the level of safeguards that any restaurant is required to have.

    Sorry Ashley but I’m tired of the shovel load of blame on the Catholic church which has done more throughout the world to save and improve the lives is women and children and the poorest among us than any other group over the years.

    Church doctrine does not cause one in four teen girls to have std’s, nor double the rates of breast cancer as abortion does nor prostitute them out as sex objects like our media does. There is a war on women but this time the fire is coming from the left rather than the right. The facts are out there clearly. These procedures and chemicals are toxic and women deserve to know the truth about them before using them.

    • Sus

      I agree Peg. We don’t have the information to know exactly what happened in this case.

      When I first heard about this, I knew the pro-life and pro-choice people would have a field day. This woman’s life and her baby should not be about a crusade for either side of the argument.

      • Darren


        You are correct that the death of Savita is a tragedy, for her and her family. It is unseemly to use such an event for the furtherance of political or religious advantage. However, perhaps some meaning can be found in her death, some small consolation afforded to her family by bringing certain questions into the public forum. Such questions as:

        Was she denied medical care or did she receive medical care that was sub-optimal?

        Was that decision based upon reasons other than medical necessity, i.e. Irish law, hospital policy, the teachings of the Church, or the opinions or beliefs of the medical staff?

        Was the care she received in accordance with Irish law?

        What, precisely, is Irish law in the matter, and how would it apply in similar or different circumstances?

        Was the care she received in accordance with Catholic teachings?

        What, precisely, is Catholic teaching on this matter, and how would it apply in similar or different circumstances?

        Whether Savita died or not has no real bearing on these questions, but perhaps through their asking it can achieve some meaning.

    • Bob

      “It doesn’t seem there is enough known legally or medically to judge exactly what killed Savita.”
      Perhaps not, but we do know (a) that she did not get appropriate medical treatment, and (b) that she’s dead. We don’t know, yet, for certain, whether A directly caused B, or whether she might have died anyway. But, regardless, we do know that she SHOULD have received appropriate medical treatment.
      We also know the reason she didn’t get appropriate medical treatment: that the medical staff at the hospital believed that Irish law prevented them from acting in the best interests of the patient. We don’t know whether that belief is correct, or just a misunderstanding of Irish law. We also know that Irish law, whatever it is, is based on Irish lawmakers’ interpretation (perhaps faulty) of Catholic moral teaching.
      Finally, we know that if Savita had been cared for by doctors who had simply felt free to do the right thing by her, period, without worrying about being arrested, they probably would have done that.

      • Bill S

        In a case like this, it is almost worth considering that the husband should sue the Catholic Church for the influence that it has exerted on Irish Law. You can honestly see where the Church was complicit in this death. Someday a pope will apologize for all of the grief that the Church has caused to people over the ages. John Paul II was that kind of pope. Hopefully, another JPII will come along with the intestinal fortitude to admit that the Church has made a lot of mistakes and has caused a lot of harm. It won’t bring people like Savita back, but it will provide closure for her husband (if he is still alive) and family.

        • Ted Seeber

          “In a case like this, it is almost worth considering that the husband should sue the Catholic Church for the influence that it has exerted on Irish Law. ”

          What if it had no influence at all on her death? Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse?

          • Bill S

            I wasn’t really that serious about suing the Church. But I say shame on Ireland for mixing religion and lawmaking. Rebecca addressed the problem well in a later story. This is all the more reason for separation of Church and State. I think in the near future you will see Ireland rebel from the Church because of incidents like this and the abuse scandals there, which are pretty bad.

        • Darren

          Yeah, good luck with that. Considering the pace at which the priest sex-abuse cases moved through the US courts, and that in a country where the government actually maintains some degree of seperation from the Church.

  • A Hermit

    The end result of all this handwaving by the Bishops is that, in cases where a woman’s health or life is threatened by complications in pregnancy they advocate more intrusive, riskier procedures which don’t “directly” abort a fetus to more effective, less intrusive, safer procedures which do “directly” abort the fetus. Even though the end result is the same; an aborted fetus.

    I guess preserving their theological semantics is more important than allowing women to make informed, rational decisions about their own health care.

  • DoctorD
  • Imelda

    This is very informative.
    May the family of Mrs. Halappanavar be given consolation during this difficult time; may she rest in peace.

    • Rebecca Hamilton


  • Al Garnier

    Again the bishopric weigh in on matters of life and death where they lack sorrowfully in scientific knowledge. Hospitals around the world are not centres for fate or faith. They are scientific centres for healing and recovery in direct conflict with the patient’s immediate fate or faith. Professionals at medical institutions have all taken an oath to preserve their patients lives, not to promote religious doctrine. In this case, they have failed Savita miserably in the right to prudent medical procedure and her own religious beliefs.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Al, the Irish bishops were weighing in on Catholic teaching, which is something where they have pre-eminent knowledge. The situations you are referring to are a matter of civil law. So far, I haven’t seen any authoritative analysis with this tragedy. I am sure that there are review boards looking at it, and I am interested to see what they say. I think it would be wise to wait until all the facts are in on this tragic case before attempting to draw conclusions as to exactly what medical failures took place and what may be done to prevent similar tragedies.