Photo credit: The Irish Times
By Jerry Coyne
Most of you probably remember the tragic and preventable death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year old dentist who died in Ireland in 2012, killed by the policies of the Catholic Church.
The story is well known: Halappanavar contracted a serious infection at 17 weeks of pregnancy, one that would kill both her and the fetus if it were not removed. Grania’s post gives more details:
Her husband recounts that repeated requests for termination (in reality, an evacuation of the uterus) were refused because the fetal heartbeat was still present, and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”. She was left with a dilated cervix for three days until the fetal heartbeat ceased. Four days later [Halappanavar] died.
It wasn’t until a year later that it became legal in Ireland to abort a fetus to save the mother’s life!
This almost happened in 2010 in the U.S., to a Michigan resident named Tamisha Means, who now tells her story in The Guardian. Means was 18 weeks pregnant and started to miscarry, but was refused admittance to Mercy Health Muskegon, a Catholic hospital. Bleeding copiously and in terrible pain, Means went back to Mercy (an inappropriate name!) the next day, and was once again refused admission.
The next day she returned to the hospital for the third time, and only then, when she started going into labor on the spot, was she admitted. The baby died, but, no thanks to Mercy, Ms. Means survived. Apparently, doctors could have told her that her child had no chance of survival and terminated her pregnancy, but they didn’t. They withheld crucial information. As Means writes in her article:
Mercy Health Muskegon is a Catholic hospital required to follow policies drafted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As the Guardian recently reported, they have religious directives that guide their medical treatment and decision-making, which includes prohibiting healthcare workers from administering any treatment or information that could result in pregnancy termination. That includes decisions where the woman’s life is at risk, as mine was, and the baby could not yet live outside of the womb, as mine couldn’t.
I was not seeking to end my pregnancy. I was seeking proper medical care. I didn’t have control over my miscarriage, but the hospital had control over the care I would receive at that devastating time. Instead of acting in my best interest, religious beliefs were used to deny me the right type of medical care.
This is insupportable. As the Guardian reports at the link above, five different women had their lives endangered in a year and a half by Mercy’s refusal to terminate their pregnancies. In all five cases, the babies died. The religious directives governing such cases are ambiguous, and it looks as if Catholic health workers simply make judgment calls.