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Irish Law, “Conscience Clauses,” and Needless Death: Three Questions About Savita Halappanavar’s Death

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

An Irish flag hangs against a blue sky

Could the tragic death of an Irish woman happen in the United States?

Last night, we reported on the unnecessary and tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, who entered an Irish hospital undergoing what turned out to be a miscarriage of a wanted pregnancy at 17 weeks, and was denied a life-saving abortion because, as she and her husband were told, Ireland is “a Catholic country.” Translation? Even a non-viable fetus, perhaps already dead but in any case absolutely certain not to survive, is more important than a woman’s life.

Numerous questions have arisen in the wake of this case.

One: Why did this happen? Doesn’t Ireland, a country with otherwise draconian abortion laws, allow abortion to save the life of the mother?

Two: Was there any doubt an abortion was necessary to save Savita’s life?

Three: Can this happen in the United States?

I’ll take these in turn.

The reason this happened is at once very simple and highly complex. It starts with Irish abortion law, and ends with the imposition of a misogynistic ideology on a woman literally begging for mercy from pain and for her own life as she pleaded with her doctors numerous times to perform an abortion on a fetus it was clear would not live.

Current Irish law on abortion is somewhat murky. The country’s laws, like those of most others, have shifted dramatically over the past two centuries, until in the mid-fifties abortion was made illegal in virtually all circumstances. The legal landscape changed again over 20 years ago when the Irish Supreme Court decided that women had a constitutional right to an abortion where there was “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother. The Supreme Court decision came in response to the case of “X,” who, as a February 2012 article in the New York Times pointed out, was a 14-year-old girl prevented from leaving the country to have an abortion after she became pregnant from rape. After that decision, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report:

 abortion [in Ireland remained] legally restricted in almost all circumstances, with potential penalties of penal servitude for life for both patients and service providers, except where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

In its 1992 decision, the Irish Supreme Court also required the government to clarify the conditions under which a legal abortion might take place.

Nonetheless, as we reported in December 2011, Human Rights Watch found that 20 years later:

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We Are All Savita Halappanavar: Catholic Hospital in Ireland Denies Woman Life-Saving Abortion

3:27 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See our further analysis of this case.

Galway University Hospital, the scene of the crime.

Last month, a woman was admitted to a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with a wanted child. She was experiencing severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying the pregnancy.

Within days, she was dead.

Why? Because she ended up in a Catholic hospital, governed by an ethic that even a non-viable fetus doomed to die is more important than a living, breathing 31-year-old woman.

It really is that simple.

IrishTimes.com reports that Savita Halappanavar, a dentist, arrived at the hospital on October 21st. According to the story:

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the fetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country.”

Indeed.

So, the story continues, “She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the fetal heartbeat stopped.

According to IrishTimes.com, Mr Halappanavar, speaking from Belgaum in the state of Karnataka, India, said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.

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