Pro-abortion advocates are clamoring for Ireland to change its abortion laws after 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died following a miscarriage. Doctors had refused to abort her 17-week-old unborn baby because the child had a heartbeat.
While the investigation is ongoing about what exactly happened to Halappanavar, media and others in Ireland are placing the blame on the country’s pro-life laws that have made abortion illegal—except when the life of the mother is in danger—for the past 20 years.
But some point out that this case had little to do with the pro-life laws, but rather with irresponsible medical protocol.
Halappanavar visited Galway University Hospital on Oct. 21 because she was suffering back pain. Doctors said she was having a miscarriage, and when she asked for an abortion, the doctors refused because the unborn baby had a heartbeat. Halappanavar died three days later of a septicemia infection.
Eilís Mulroy wrote in an opinion piece in the UK’s Independent, “In this kind of situation the baby can be induced early (though is very unlikely to survive). The decision to induce labor early would be fully in compliance with the law and the current guidelines set out for doctors by the Irish Medical Council.”
The Irish law did not stop the doctors from saving Halappanavar, Mulroy wrote, and so the responsibility of Halappanavar’s death is on the medical team for not practicing the right protocol.
Professor John Bonnar, former chairman of Ireland’s Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists agreed in his statement to the All Party Oireachtas Committee’s Fifth Report on Abortion: “We consider that there is a fundamental difference between abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of the baby, for example for social reasons, and the unavoidable death of the baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother.”
Ireland, according to the United Nations, is one of the safest places for a mother to have a baby.
After Halappanavar’s case became public, many protesters went to the streets of Dublin urging the Irish government to spell out when life-saving abortions can be performed. Some doctors claim they cannot help patients because they are afraid of doing something illegal.
Ireland is one of the only European countries—along with Vatican City and Malta—where abortion is illegal except when the mother’s life is in danger.
In 1992, Irish courts tried to legalize abortion with the X case, where a 14-year-old rape victim wanted to leave the country for an abortion. But a pro-life youth group called Youth Defence rallied its peers, with thousands of young people taking to the streets and protesting outside courthouses and the homes of the ministers. The government eventually backed down.
“It is very sad to see abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case to further their own agenda,” said Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute, an Irish pro-life group. “The tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar’s life was not caused by Ireland’s ban on abortion. We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected, and abortion is not part of best medical practice. It is medieval medicine.”