An investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died in an Irish hospital after being refused a medically necessary abortion, has confirmed that Ms. Halappanavar and her husband were indeed told that her pregnancy could not be terminated because Ireland is a Catholic country.
In a case that has reignited tensions over Ireland’s strict abortion laws, Ann Maria Burke, the midwife who attended to the pregnant woman, said at the inquest in Galway on Wednesday that the remark “had come out the wrong way” and that she had not meant it to be hurtful.
The pregnant woman, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist born in India, “had mentioned the Hindu faith and that in India a termination would be possible,” Ms. Burke said. “I was trying to be as broad and explanatory as I could. It was nothing to do with medical care at all.”
The state coroner, Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, testified that public hospitals in Ireland were not bound by any religious dogma.
Dr. Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, has said the couple were told that the country’s Catholicism was the reason for the refusal to terminate the pregnancy, even though his wife was in severe pain and they had been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival. In Ireland, abortion is legal when there is a fetal heartbeat only if there is “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman.
Yes, clearly the problem is that the remarks were hurtful.
To be clear, I’m not blaming the midwife here. What she said is pretty much true: Abortion is largely illegal in Ireland, and that illegality stems from the Catholic Church’s strong advocacy in that country. No, hospitals may not all operate according to religious dogma, but the law is in place in large part because of religious dogma. And doctors who do perform medically necessary abortions are heavily scrutinized because of religious dogma.
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