A woman’s right to choose

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar presented at a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She was actively miscarrying her baby and begged for an abortion. Doctors there refused because they could still detect a fetal heartbeat. She begged for 3 days while she was enduring unrelenting pain. Finally, the dead fetus was removed several days later but it was too late for Savita as she died of septicemia. Unfortunately for  her, she was in a Catholic country.

Even though the medical staff knew she was miscarrying they were too scared of the possible repercussions if they aborted the fetus. That this kind of thing can still happen in 2012 is shocking. The separation of church and state has been a reality in most western nations for a very long time and with good reason. In fact, when we do see countries ruled by religion we are righteously indignant. Iran certainly comes to mind. Slavish adherence to Islam (purportedly) keeps women enslaved and impedes basic freedoms. Yet here we have Ireland, supposedly a western nation, where priests and the Catholic Church rival even the most religious mullah when it comes to control over the local population. While we rightly criticize the role of religion in government why is it that the Catholic Church gets a free pass?

Catholics believe in some strange things. Transubstantiation[1] is perhaps one of the most out there beliefs. Priests are central to the Catholic Church; Adherents believe in the priest’s power to interpret the bible and advise them on how they should live their lives. The Catholic Church does a really good job of indoctrinating its children through catechism. Then there is the dubious idea of confession. Confess your sins to a priest and it really does not matter what you have done. Clearly the Catholic Church extends this idea to its own. The pedophilic priests of the past century have mostly received a free pass for their crimes against children. Moved from parish to parish, their crimes covered up by the Vatican, these priests victimized so many children.

Perhaps our society withholds judgment of the Catholic Church because they are ostensibly Christian[2]. We have all been conditioned to believe that the Christian religions are right and good and all others (particularly Islam) are wrong and bad. It plays into the oppositional binaries with which we organize information. Anyone growing up in one of these cultures generally sees Christian religions as familiar and ‘like us.’ While most western countries were founded on Protestant Christianity we still mostly accept Catholicism.

So in Galway, Ireland, a woman can still die from complications of a miscarriage because the Catholic Church still dictates medical care when it involves pregnancy. Even though doctors knew she was miscarrying and her life was in danger they were still loathe to do anything that would upset their Catholic overlords. Ultimately Savita Halappanavar paid the price with her life because some men in dresses in Rome decided that her fetus had more rights than she did. Isn’t this actually an anti-life stance? After all the fetus was not going to live and now we have lost the mother too.


[1] The belief that God, through the priest, transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

[2] I am not in any way saying that other Christian religions are better.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for writing about this.

    What is so incredible to me is the absence of moral character by the doctors involved. One comment I read spoke of ‘severe’ consequences for the staff if the abortion had been performed.

    Oh, really? What are severe consequences? Any punishment meted out would have stopped well short of death. How to compare that to Savita’s suffering? Severe consequences indeed.


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