A Brief Note on the Death of Savita Halappanavar

A short while ago I wrote a guest post of the BSA Med Soc Cost of Living blog on Why a pro-life Northern Ireland depends on a pro-choice UK. They invited me to update the post following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. Here is what I had to say: 

The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar does not precisely reflect the concerns expressed above.  But it does illustrate something about the consequences of reducing debates about abortion to simplistic moral arguments that stifle legitimate debate. It seems evident that even in a country with restrictive abortion legislation that women whose pregnancy places their life at severe risk should receive lifesaving treatment. In this respect the tragic events in Galway make it difficult to come to any other conclusion than that Savita Halappanavar’s care was, at best, mismanaged. Two investigations have now been launched to find out where things went wrong. 

However that this tragic event occurred is not simply a matter of legislative or professional incompetence but a broader political failure of those in positions of power – whether they are legislators, professionals or clergy. Only last year, a group of Irish medical professionals declared that ‘abortion was not medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant mother.’ In the light of this comment on the clinical parameters of Savita Halappanavar’s case this is a  bizarre statement from trained medical professionals. It is evident that both North and South of the border clinicians need further guidance. The intransigence of the powerful belies the increasingly organized grassroots pressure on the Irish and Northern Irish governments to tackle the issue of abortion legislation. Their continued failure to do so maintains the status quo where women travel to other countries to get the services they need whilst moralist rhetoric monopolises public, political and professional discourse.

The power of these moralists extends, it seems, all the way to the clinic where it needlessly cost Savita Halappanavar’s her life. This state of affairs cannot continue. Both political and professional actors need to accept their responsibility to create proper legislation and clinical guidelines for abortion before any more women die needlessly.