Savita’s Law? The Irish Abortion Referendum and a Red-Herring

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and as Stephen Kneale points out here, one of the pro-abortion lobby’s tactics is to focus attention on the difficult cases. The message is that if you are against abortion then you are unloving because you don’t care about vulnerable people, those who are victims of assault or those who are medically at risk through pregnancy.

It’s important to raise this because, what the Irish referendum did was it enabled us to see the Abortion Lobby’s playbook clearly revealed. The aim is not to have a genuine conversation or even debate to establish a good answer. Rather, their aim is to ensure that people feel that they have no option but to side with them. This means that people who disagree are bullied into silence and people who are undecided are emotionally manipulated in giving their consent. It is important to know this because whenever the possibility of rowing back from our present situation is contemplated, whenever our status-quo is challenged, the same tactics are deployed.

With that in mind, I want to put the spotlight on one of their deeply cruel, unloving and deceitful strategies.  During the Irish Referendum, one case in particular was used to champion the case for abortion.  In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died as the result of complications associated with a septic miscarriage.

You can read about the case here.[1] The significance of it is that it took seven days for the miscarriage to happen and early on, Savita asked for an abortion. The failure to abort the baby is presented as the cause of her death, hence anyone who did not support abortion was showing a lack of love and concern for people like Savita. People are calling for Ireland’s new abortion law to be named after her.

However, here are some important points that get glossed over.

–          The reason why a termination was not permitted was that at that stage, the medical team did not think that Savita’s life was in danger. This is because they had not diagnosed a blood infection at that point

–          Once the team identified that her life was in danger they did attempt to medically induce the child. However, they were already too late and the miscarriage completed before they were able to administer misoprostol.

–          The coroner’s verdict at the inquest was death caused by medical misadventure. And the medical team were criticised for their failures in care and diagnosis.

–          The law at that time prevented abortion where there was no immediate physiological danger to the woman’s life. However The Republic of Ireland did (since 1992) allow for abortion where there were significant risks to the mother including the risk of suicide.

–          Following the inquest and recognition that there had been confusion over interpreting the law (as well as medical shortcomings) The Protection of Life  During Pregnancy Act  2013 was passed.

Why does this matter? It matters because what Savita needed was greater clarity in how the law was interpreted and better medical care. Those who care about people in her circumstances should put their attention to ensuring that better medical care including diagnosis and treatment are available.  The solution to a medical crisis is not a general freedom of choice to end a pregnancy.

The irony is that the Irish legal and legislative system already seemed to be responding to those circumstances and moving forward. Legalising abortion is actually a distraction from the progress that is needed to provide better care for women during pregnancy

Cases like Savita’s are challenging because they present us with a genuine ethical dilemma. The dilemma is not between a freedom to choose and a right to live but between two lives that are in danger and what you do when you can save one but not the other.[2]  Pro-life campaigners recognise that this is a genuine challenge. It’s a known ethical dilemma which is relevant to a wider range of scenarios than just a risky pregnancy. The so called “pro-choice” campaign doesn’t get us any closer to answering that dilemma either.

Abortion takes us up a medical and ethical cul-de-sac which distracts us from answering difficult questions and pushing forward to make serious medical progress. Abortion does not provide a loving option.  It is possible that because the Abortion Lobby have now well and truly showed their hand that there is a glimmer of hope for those who genuinely care for the vulnerable (both the unborn child and the mother at risk) to begin the fight back. I suspect it will be a long struggle just as the campaign to abolish slavery was but the struggle may not be as hopeless as it feels today.

[1] See also

[2] Ironically again, this was not the hardest of cases because in Savita’s case, it was clear that the baby was miscarrying and would not survive regardless of whether or not the mother would survive. The genuine focus at this stage should have been on saving the mother and for various reasons this failed to happen -the primary one seeming to be that the elvel of danger to the mother was misjudged.