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A woman holds a picture of Savita Halappanava during a candle lit vigil outside Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland Photo by: AP

Lack of an abortion did not cause Savita Halappanavar’s death in Galway

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A woman holds a picture of Savita Halappanava during a candle lit vigil outside Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland Photo by: AP

Marc Coleman is Economics Editor of Newstalk Radio in Dublin and a noted commentator.

Last Saturday I was agreeing fully with Niall O’Dowd’s editorial on Cardinal O’Malley’s snub to our Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Having shook hands with Obama I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t do the same with Enda Kenny.

Then I spotted the following comment he made in relation to government plans to legalize abortion in Ireland – and previous governments not having done so until now- where he wrote the following:

“The tragic consequences of not legislating were laid out in Galway recently when a young Indian woman died after a doctor refused to terminate her non-viable fetus.”

Wow. Just Wow. Had he made any effort to follow the facts of the abortion debate since last November, this is what he would know: As the Coroner’s report into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar death makes clear, her death occurred due to hospital systems failure and not the lack of abortion.

The contention that Ireland’s “Catholic laws” caused her death were stupid and bigoted to begin with (enacted by an overwhelmingly protestant parliament in 1861, they are decidedly protestant). Since the Coroner’s report was published anyone with sense has backed away from that view.

Virulent sepsis, aggravated by a litany of mistakes - blood samples not followed up in time, management protocols not followed, poor communication between staff on call, confusion over medical notes – are the real causes of death.

As I pointed out in my last article for IrishCentral, Dr. Hema Divakar of the Indian Federation of Obstetricians believes an earlier termination could, far from helping, have led to an earlier death. But even if it had been helpful, it would, under Irish law – which permits termination if there is a “real and substantial” risk to the life of the mother – have been lawful.

So the correct response to this tragedy is not legislation, but better guidelines to apply the law already there. And a drastic overhaul of hospital management systems. Unfortunately compared to entrenched vested interests in publicly run hospitals, unborn children are voiceless and easier to scapegoat politically. Thanks to biased agenda driven reporting, public anger has directed away from cause and fact and towards myths and agendas. We must now, we are told, legalize abortion because in 1992 the Supreme Courts said so in its infamous “X case” ruling.

This we are told, will address the issue of “thousands” of women who travel to Britain each year. But what about the thousands of children who don’t come back? And could legislation involving the threat of suicide have done anything to help a woman who was fighting for her life with every inch of her breath?

The truth is it wouldn’t. Nor would it help anyone else. In a signed letter opposed by none of their peers 113 Irish psychiatrists have stated that abortion is not a cure for suicidal feelings (this was of course downplayed by the media). As for the Supreme Court ruling former Taoiseach and EU Ambassador to the US John Bruton has debunked that myth: It has been overturned by a 1994 “proportionality” test of the High Court and a 2001 referendum outlawing the intentional taking of life by the state. Sadly the truth is being laid aside in the push to get (in the words of one journalist) legal abortion “over the line.”

Most disturbing is this: Savita’s death occurred in October. But the Sunday Independent of April 28th last published recordings of two Labour TDs taken the preceding June - months before her death – in which they maintain the Labour leader had pushed Enda Kenny to “whip TDs into line” to support this legislation and that this was done as a first step towards abortion on demand.

Now many in good conscience felt until now they were supporting legislation to help women. Now it seems clear that a tragedy is being commandeered to push a sinister agenda based on mistruths.

nd if the catholic church lacks moral status to defend the unborn let us turn to Jewish wisdom instead: Between the response of making our hospital systems safe for women and our guidelines clear for doctors on one hand, and legalizing abortion on the other,  Solomon would know what to do.

Finally, Niall O’Dowd might have taken a different tack in criticizing Cardinal O’Malley. Did he protest to fellow cardinals in relation to church failings to protect children from suffering? It would be a valid response. Sadly even it is spoiled by the double standards of American “progressives” for whom church failings render it morally compromised when abortion is at stake but when the church supports “progressive” positions on poverty, the death penalty or US foreign policy the church is suddenly rendered miraculously fit to comment.

The church deserves a beating. But not from those who are exploiting the suffering of born children just to legalize suffering for the unborn. One moral failure doesn’t justify another. And untruths are a poor basis for opinion.

Niall O’Dowd responds. It is a matter of opinion whether the lack of abortion of her 19-week old non-viable fetus caused Savita’s death. As Paul Cullen in The Irish Times noted the opinion of an expert witness at the inquest contrasted sharply with the one Marc Coleman holds.

Cullen wrote “There is no other way to summarize yesterday’s main testimony to the Savita Halappanavar inquest other than that, in the view of an expert witness, restrictive Irish abortion laws cost Ms Halappanavar her life.

Dr Peter Boylan’s statement that Ms Halappanavar would most likely be with us today if she’d been given a termination earlier may be just an opinion, but it is the opinion of one of the most eminent obstetricians in the State.

As the former master and current clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital, with extensive professional experience in the UK and US as well as Ireland, Dr Boylan clearly has vast experience.”

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