A young dentist named Savita Halappanavar died last month in Ireland because University Hospital Galway repeatedly refused to perform an abortion. Doctors would not terminate the clearly-failing pregnancy while she was undergoing a painful miscarriage because the fetal heartbeat was still present. Her fetus was eventually removed from her body when the heartbeat stopped, but not after she suffered over three days in pain. After her liver, heart and kidneys slowed and were barely functioning, Halappanavar died at age 31 of septicemia (blood poisoning) and E.coli ESBL.
Savita Halappanavar and her husband Praveen Halappanavar, who works at Boston Scientific in Galway, had lived in the country since 2008. Seventeen weeks into her pregnancy, she began feeling suspicious back pain. Soon it became clear she was miscarrying, the pain she was suffering increased to other areas of her body, and beginning on October 21, the couple repeatedly asked to have the pregnancy terminated. Halappanavar’s cervix was fully dilated and was leaking amniotic fluid — and here’s the kicker — a doctor told her the fetus was not going to survive outside the womb. Yet because the fetal heartbeat was still present, doctors on staff forced Halappanavar to undergo days of “shakes,” “shivering” and “vomiting,” her husband recounted.
The hospital repeatedly told the couple it could not perform an abortion, because Ireland is a Catholic country; the Halappanavars are Hindu and from India. In Ireland, abortion is banned in the constitution, but a 1992 court decision decided a woman has a legal right to an abortion if her life is at risk. It is unclear whether each doctor refused out of their own decision, or whether doctors were willing to terminate Halappanavar’a pregnancy but feared governmental repercussions. (University Hospital Galway is refusing to comment to the press, citing patient privacy.)
This is why it is a problem when a doctor or a pharmacist refuses to provide abortions or dispense the abortion pill or the morning after pill. In those cases, often the subject of “conscience clause” laws, it is imperative someone is there who will provide these women’s health services. Savita Halappanavar and her husband may have lived in “a Catholic country,” but the panicked struggle to find an abortion provider is just the same in rural areas of the United States; according to the most recent survey, a whopping 87 percent of counties in the U.S. do not have an identifiable abortion provider. (This is why states legislate mandatory waiting periods, sometimes as many as three days, because they know rural women will have to take multiple days off work in order to travel for abortions.)
The failure to treat Savita Halappanavar shows how choices doctors and pharmacists impose on the women they are supposed to serve have real-world consequences, including sickness and death. As Jodi Jacobson wrote last night on the blog Reproductive Health Reality Check:
Someone’s daughter, wife, friend, perhaps sister is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable fetus was more important than her life. Because she was left to suffer for days on end in service of an ideological stance and religion she did not share. Because a wanted pregnancy went horribly wrong, and, because as must now be clear, there are people who don’t care about the lives of women. And there are others so invested in their uninformed misogynistic ideology that they claim there are no situations in which a woman’s life might be endangered by pregnancy.
So, don’t call yourself “pro-life,” people who are against abortion. Because of the doctors’ refusal in accordance with “pro-life” views, a 31-year-old woman — and her sick fetus — are both dead.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.
[Image: Telegraph UK]