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Nov 14 2012

She Should Have Been Better at Making Babies

This will not be a nice post. Consider yourself warned.

By now, you’ve heard about the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar.

He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.

She should have known better. Sure, she’s not Catholic herself, but that doesn’t mean she gets to be special and be exempt from the sin of Eve.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

Of course she was in agony. “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” Why would anyone, much less the devout, think a woman should experience anything else? That is her role, handed down by God.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

No, they couldn’t. If they couldn’t do it during the prior two days of labor, with her cervix wide open to infection and bits of dead tissue just sitting around to incubate it, why could they do it now? Sure, she had a completely predictable infection, one of the leading causes of death in hospitals, but there was still life inside her. It’s that life, always that life, doomed, parasitic, dangerous as it may be, that is the only important consideration.

At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”

Yes, then and only then did Savita become a patient again, a person in her own right. It was too late by then but, well, you know, she hadn’t done a very good job of either staying pregnant or stopping being pregnant. Either one would have fixed the problem. As it was, what could anyone do?


They could have fucking saved her life immediately is what they could have done. They could have treated her as the human being she was. They could have recognized her independent right to life and health that exists to the same degree as the rights of everyone who isn’t pregnant.

This wasn’t a tragedy. It was a travesty, and it was predictable in every respect from start to finish. All that crap up there about the “reasoning” behind watching Savita die in pain? That is exactly the reasoning that makes this shit happen. It wasn’t what anyone was saying as they all sat around and shrugged at each other and made sad eyes at Savita and her husband. It probably wasn’t even anything they allowed themselves to think, but it was the basis for every one of those actions.

Every time we point at those “pro-life” arguments that leave the pregnant woman (“woman” meaning at least pubertal and biologically female here) entirely out of the equation. Every time we snarl at those people saying, “Well, if you didn’t want to be pregnant…”. Every time we deny that anyone else has a right to make these decisions for women. Every. Single. Time. This is what we’re fighting.

We are not baby-making machines. We carry, many of us, baby-making machinery around inside of us, but just as with our hands and our brains and our mouths, what we do with it is up to us. Given this machinery’s massive effects on our health, it is even more up to us what we do with it. No god gets to compete with that. No potential for a cute little baby gets to compete with that. No man’s desire for legacy gets to compete with that.

Even if they did compete, directly and honestly, they’d lose. As long as they allow the pregnant woman to be a consideration, they lose the argument. They lose because then the argument looks as inhumane and appalling as what I posted above. It looks as inhumane and appalling as it really is.

Is Savita’s situation extreme? Yes and no. This kind of miscarriage isn’t the most common, but it happens plenty. That fetal heartbeat requirement will kill more women if it continues to be applied.

So will just about any policy short of abortion on demand. Women will die of medical complications they didn’t need to. They will stay with partners who abuse them. They will experience more stress and more poverty, which shorten lives, sometimes drastically. They will, of course, die of illegal abortions if they must.

As horrific as what happened to Savita in that hospital is, it is extreme only in that the consequences of denying abortion followed so quickly on the heels of the denial. It isn’t unusual in the size of the consequence. It isn’t unusual in that the argument in favor requires pretending that the woman involved doesn’t exist except as an incubator.

In short, what happened in Ireland is exactly the consequences we can expect where pro-life arguments hold sway.

Update: If you want to do something to help women circumvent Irish abortion law, the Abortion Support Network provides travel funds. It wouldn’t have helped Savita, as she was too ill to travel, but if you want to help someone else, donate here.

Update II: Brianne has found a site tracking political actions to make sure this does not happen again.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    All people talking about the good of religion, please don’t say a word for just one day

  2. 2
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    I will honestly scream if I hear that, Giliell.

  3. 3
    ashleybell

    Wow.

    So she and her husband wanted the procedure to be done.

    That means that the hospital either:

    1. did not inform her of the severity of her condition, or

    2. did not tell her that the doctors unconditionally would not perform the procedure UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE… because the couple would have simply gone to another hospital, if they had been informed that all other hospitals… IN THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD perform this procedure without batting an eyelid. Ah Catholic church I wish you an excruciating, humiliating demise. And I predict that its just around the corner. Ireland is already sick of you and your kid-buggering ways

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    Savita’s story would have gone differently if she’d been rich. Because, of course, Ireland’s wealthy and powerful have always been able to get on an airplane to somewhere where abortion is safe and legal. Someplace that’s not a catholic country.

  5. 5
    Jeremy Shaffer

    This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.

    It was a Catholic country and I’m sure the doctors and such were good Catholics. Sadly, this means that they were also piss poor human beings and shit medical professionals.

  6. 6
    rq

    I read this on Pharyngula and it made me cry. And it made me cry again. I don’t know why I read this post.
    But it had to be written. The rage must out. :(

  7. 7
    Sylvia Sybil

    @ Ashley Bell #3

    Unfortunately, not “all the other hospitals in the world” would have helped her. This isn’t the first case of something similar happening, and there are plenty of other hospitals that would and have done the same thing. Here’s a woman almost dying in a Chicago hospital because nobody would call in the abortion doctor until it was almost too late.

    Ms. Halappanavar’s death is horrifying, but it becomes even more horrifying when you realize she is not alone. This doesn’t just happen in “Catholic countries”, it can and does happen elsewhere too.

  8. 8
    jamessweet

    No god gets to compete with that. No potential for a cute little baby gets to compete with that. No man’s desire for legacy gets to compete with that.

    Even if they did compete, directly and honestly, they’d lose. As long as they allow the pregnant woman to be a consideration, they lose the argument. They lose because then the argument looks as inhumane and appalling as what I posted above. It looks as inhumane and appalling as it really is.

    (emph. mine) Hear hear.

    As a father of two children, I admit that it is disturbing and heart-wrenching to contemplate the idea of there being a fetus with half my genetic material that I wanted to keep and raise, and having it unilaterally aborted. But if I weigh that against the ghastly inhumane monstrous prospect of a person being forced against their will to have their body literally used in such a dramatic way, it’s just beyond absurd to try and put both of those on the same scale.

  9. 9
    Zugswang

    Is there a website that documents these cases? I remember what happened when St. Joseph’s in Phoenix, AZ performed a life-saving abortion and excommunicated one of the members of its ethics board for approving the procedure, but that’s the only other highly publicized instance that comes to mind, and I can’t find anything that’s similar to the “What’s the harm?” website that documents the very real harm that results from this kind of dogmatic adherence.

  10. 10
    Stephanie Zvan

    Start here: http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/womens-voices/womens-stories/womens-stories-abortion.html It gives you all sorts of stories, not just the ones that go viral.

  11. 11
    shari

    i think the church needs to worry about saving the lives of CURRENT people, and get really good at protecting them, before they move on to saving or protecting potential people. I have two children due to informed choice. The above tale disgusts me. Thanks for posting the links – therein lies a way to go further in doing SOMETHING with my disgust. This is horrible.

  12. 12
    Rob

    So, this is a nice start to the day isn’t it? I feel sick to my stomach.

    Do we call this callous negligence or murder?

    Is there some international law or treaty that could be invoked to intervene in this medieval evil?

  13. 13
    sceptinurse

    I read about this yesterday and it made me furious. I don’t find any less infuriating today.

  14. 14
    sambarge

    I haven’t read anything to suggest this but the “this is a Catholic country” makes me think that Savita was the victim of racism as well as misogyny.

    Is the racism just too obvious to mention?

  15. 15
    Lou Doench

    @sambarge Racism occurred to me as well. A

    All three of my kids were born in Catholic hospitals in the US. Here in Ohio the legislature is moving to push through a fetal heartbeat rule here (http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/ohio-heartbeat-bill-defund-planned-parenthood)

    I’ve got 2 little girls. I shudder to think of this happening to them.

  16. 16
    nesbimaret

    It was torture
    Torture for the mother, for the father,torture for the fetus that was left inside a decaying womb.

    A travesty, I’m still seething.

  17. 17
    Argle Bargle

    ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

    Now Savita doesn’t have a heartbeat either.

  18. 18
    Zugswang

    Stephanie, thanks for that link.

    I also saw today that Ophelia pointed to a study done by the National Women’s Law Center that shows how Catholic hospitals in the US ignore medical ethics and laws in favor of Catholic dogma, and wanted to share:

    http://www.nwlc.org/resource/below-radar-fact-sheet-religious-refusals-treat-pregnancy-complications-put-women-danger

  19. 19
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    I don’t know whether to cry, scream, or go all rage-y. They killed her, they fucking killed her, and for what? A fetal heartbeat? The heartbeat of an already-dying fetus that was never going to make it anyway? Fuck them. Fuck their Pope. Fuck their religion. And fuck their “morality”; if this kind of thing is the result, I don’t want any part of it.

  20. 20
    demonhauntedworld

    I wonder if they (the doctors) could somehow rationalize this using the Doctrine of Double Effect. I mean, they didn’t intend for the mother to die by withholding the abortion, did they?

  21. 21
    chrisdevries

    This infuriates me. I agree with all posters here, but especially with #16 nesbimaret. This WAS effectively passive torture (letting someone suffer physical pain – not to mention the psychological trauma accompanying it – when that pain can be safely and effectively treated with a very simple procedure). It is true that the problem which caused the pain was not the doctors’ fault, but their inaction unnecessarily prolonged a patient’s suffering and ultimately ended with a completely unnecessary fatality.

    The fundamental ethical requirement all doctors must agree to upon entering the profession – the Hippocratic oath – states “first, do no harm.” This responsibility precedes ALL other considerations, including sectarian religious values. Through their delaying the necessary, life-saving medical procedure to ensure that the fetus (which would never have survived ANYWAY) did not have a beating heart (apparently as long as your heart is beating, Catholics consider you a living human being) they did profound harm. Malpractice suits are the least of these doctors’ worries; this qualifies, in my book anyway, as involuntary manslaughter (although a good case could be made for voluntary manslaughter as well).

    The strange part of this story is that Ireland has a law which allows abortions when the mother’s life is in danger. The medical staff had an out – they could have obeyed the law and been totally, legally and ethically blameless. Some people have been claiming that it is ultimately the politicians and religious leaders who are responsible for Savita’s death, but it is clear to me that the doctors assigned to her case felt ideologically compelled to refuse to perform an abortion, and that they rationalised this decision with the wishful thinking that Savita’s life was not in danger, that she could survive a few days’ delay. But even if you allow that they had convinced themselves that her life was not in danger, allowing Savita to suffer immensely until the heartbeat stopped directly contravened their Oath. Even if Savita lived, they had done significant harm.

    So it is plain to see for any rational observer that at least some Irish doctors who are also Catholic put their religious ideology ahead of their professional responsibilities. They chose to prolong her suffering; they chose to ignore the very clear signs that she was dying. It is unimaginable for me to consider that these people believe that a completely doomed fetus (that just happens to have a heartbeat) has more human rights than does the woman in whom the fetus resides. This is what religion does: it causes people to believe the preposterous and do the unimaginable. It warps their morality, and manipulates them to rationalise the most insane things while simultaneously claiming the moral high ground. It creates ethical dilemmas where there shouldn’t be any question of right and wrong, and in many cases convinces people to actually break the law when the law contradicts their ideology.

    These doctors should be fired, their medical licenses permanently revoked, and they should be brought up on criminal, and civil charges. And the abortion laws in Ireland need to change so that no matter how Catholic one claims they are, one is compelled to provide early- and mid-term abortion services to women who request them, without restriction. It is time for a modern Western democracy to shed the ugly remnants of its theocratic past: Ireland must ditch its officially Catholic state religion and embrace secularism. If this incident provokes this kind of action from the Irish people and their government, then at least Savita’s unnecessary torture and death will have resulted in some positive outcomes (not that it should have come to this).

  22. 22
    Corvus illustris

    Re Zugswang @19:

    Things haven’t changed in 100 years. Some time in the late 19-teens my grandmother is in the OR at St Lawrence Hospital in Lansing MI, literally prepped for a hysterectomy (uterine cancer, for crissake!), when the managing nun comes in and announces that “THAT kind of operation isn’t going on in MY hospital.” And it didn’t. She survived for years, having been treated with the kind of radiation therapy (radium implants) then available, but eventually succumbed to the disease.

    It took another couple of generations for the family to abandon Catholicism (some explicitly, some implicitly). Thanks to this outrage and the pederasty scandals, it may not take the Irish another 1600 years either.

  23. 23
    Fern

    Sambarge @14:

    I haven’t read anything to suggest this but the “this is a Catholic country” makes me think that Savita was the victim of racism as well as misogyny.

    Is the racism just too obvious to mention?

    Thanks for bringing that up. I haven’t yet seen any analysis of the intersection of sex/race/religion/immigrant status in this case, but I would be interested if anyone has any insight on the matter.

  24. 24
    timberwoof

    That was ghastly to read … and the people standing by making sad faces reminded me of all the movies and documentaries about the death penalty I’ve seen.

    If capital punishment were carried out so the condemned suffered like that, there’d be an uproar of indignation even from the firing-squad crowd. But that’s what happened here: those doctors decided she should die, like that.

    Grrrr.

  1. 25
    Around FtB | Pharyngula

    [...] Savita [...]

  2. 26
    Savita Halappanavar | Atheism, Music, and More…

    [...] others. Zinnia Jones – This is what a Catholic country looks like Almost Diamonds – She Should Have Been Better at Making Babies A Million Gods – Faith and Begorrah Biodork – Savita Halappanavar’s [...]

  3. 27
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    Love and Shame in the Wake of Savita | Consider the Tea Cosy

    [...] She should have been better at making babies. [...]

  5. 29
    Speaking for the Religious | Almost Diamonds

    [...] days ago, I wrote a post about death and abortion. It laid out, without flinching, the ideas that allow someone who identifies as [...]

  6. 30
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    [...] heartbreaking case of Savita Halappanavar and what happens when women’s bodies are simply chattels for others’ [...]

  7. 31
    I’m angry. Here’s why. « notbigondignity

    [...] this post points out, stop taking pregnant women out of the equation when talking about being pro-life. [...]

  8. 32
    Thoughts on Savita | Lousy Canuck

    [...] the Catholics ignored one entity with a heartbeat in favour of another, for no ready reason. But Stephanie nails that reason — the doctors, being good Catholics, let Savita die because she was failing [...]

  9. 33
    You Voted for Death | En Tequila Es Verdad

    [...] voted for a world in which women had better be damned good at being pregnant, because their life is at [...]

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