Those calling for the liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws are making much capital of the fact that Savita was allegedly denied an abortion. According to the rhetoric, Ireland’s law should have allowed her to have an abortion, the moment she asked for one. Savita was miscarrying a wanted child. She was in agony and experiencing considerable distress, therefore she asked for the treatment for her miscarriage that she believed was most likely to swiftly deliver her from torment, which is more than understandable. Faced with an identical situation, most of us would do the same, I had a suspected ectopic in one of my pregnancies, the pain was excruciating and I would have done almost anything to make it stop.
Though Savita had unquestionable medical knowledge, like most of us, she was not a qualified obstetrician. She was not requesting an abortion, but what she believed was the most appropriate course of treatment for her miscarriage; one that would get the ordeal over for her quickly. Though medics must consider the feelings of their patients when it comes to treatment, they are not obliged to follow patients’ demands, no-one can force a surgeon to operate against their will, particularly not if the surgeon does not believe it to be in the patient’s best interests. Though a patient is able to withhold medical consent, they are not able to determine the precise and exact nature of their treatment. A pregnant woman cannot force a doctor to induce her baby at 36 or 37 weeks or carry out a planned cesarian simply because it is her will. She may think she has a valid medical reason, but ultimately the decision is in the hands of the doctors, as is the case with any medical treatment. Being a pregnant woman does not privilege one when it comes to determining medical treatment.This case is not about the refusal of abortion, but the mismanagement of a miscarriage and medical malpractice. James Reilly, Ireland’s health minister, himself a doctor, noted that allowing a miscarriage to occur naturally can often be the safest option.
For those blaming Ireland’s Catholic culture, this is not the view of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin who believes that Ireland “is now a highly secularised society, and many look to the Church through a secularised lens to the point that, in a sense, one could speak of what I call ‘a climate of undeclared heresy’ that pervades many dimensions of understanding of Faith among Catholics.” We do not know whether the medic who reportedly uttered the phrase ‘this is a Catholic country” said this in support of the law or against it; either way they were theologically, medically and legally uninformed.
All of us who identify as pro-life would like to express our sincere condolences to Savita’s family on the loss of this beautiful young woman and her baby. No-one believes that a woman should be compelled by law to sacrifice her life for that of her unborn child and as everyone has pointed out, treating Savita would neither have contravened Catholic bio-ethics nor Irish law.
None of that is any consolation however, an enquiry needs to take place and if necessary dismissals and re-training need to occur to ensure Ireland manages to maintain its place as one of the safest places in the world to give birth, a country safer for pregnant women than the UK.