Caroline Farrow has provided a characteristically clearly written and well-balanced account of the circumstances leading to Mrs Halappanavar’s death. It appears that her awful ordeal can’t be simplistically claimed by anyone who wants to claim a necessary connection between any set of abortion politics and maternal health. The diagnosis of death following sepsis was neither caused by pregnancy nor does it seem likely that it could have been averted by a termination, and the comment that “this is a catholic country”, whilst insensitive to Savita and her family, who understandably noted that she was neither Irish nor Catholic, was made by a midwife who had no direct clinical responsibility for the case.
From a quick glance at the table of comparative statistics on maternal health it’s interesting to see that there seems to be no clear correlation between culturally catholic countries and high maternal mortality rates. The coexistence of pro-life legislation and low maternal mortality rates in Chile is good news of course, but I’d be interested in knowing whether their holding the best rate in the region is due to punitive pro-life legislation in other Latin American countries. In a recent post Calah Alexander brought up an excellent account of a discussion she’s been having with a pro-choice colleague on the horrific consequences of ‘Heartbeat’ legislation for women carrying ectopic pregnancies in El Salvador, which includes a really well-thought out and sensitive discussion on how catholic moral theology ought to respond to legislation which seems designed to leave women suffering greviously even when there is no hope of the the child surviving.
The general air of medical negligence that surrounded Savita’s treatment in Galway University College Hospital should be followed up within that particular hospital, and general lessons about the importance of dedicated midwives to listen to pregnant women’s concerns and detect the signs of sepsis at an early stage can certainly be drawn in the UK, which is suffering both from a much higher maternal mortality rate than in Ireland, and a dearth of provision for midwives at a point when the birth rate is the highest in 42 years.
Still, it would be disingenuous to attempt to move responsibility entirely away from the catholic origins of Ireland’s anti-abortion position. The Irish Conference of Catholic Bishops do not personally draft legislation, and the abortion laws are, in any case, not in accordance with catholic moral teaching as they permit direct termination when the mother’s life is imperiled. Pro-abortion advocates have generally been unwilling to concede this point, just as catholic pro-life adovates have been unwilling to concede that Ireland does not need to be a theocracy for legislation and a cultural climate strongly influenced by catholicism to create nervousness about directly intervening when pregnant women face medical emergencies.