Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Good Choice

In Ireland, a change to the nation's abortion laws is afoot after an Indian woman there died after miscarrying. According to the family of Savita Halappanavar, she had requested to be allowed to abort the fetus after developing severe pain.

According to Mr. Halappanavar, when his wife first requested an abortion, hospital staff denied her request, citing the fact that Ireland is a Catholic nation. When asked why this should also apply to Hindus, Mr. Halappanavar relates: "But she said 'I'm sorry, unfortunately it's a Catholic country' and it's the law that they can't abort when the foetus is live."

That may now be about to change. From what I understand from reading the BBC articles on the case, abortion can be considered lawful in circumstances that threaten the life of the mother, including suicide, and this has been the case for 20 years. So what's being considered now, is " legislation to give certainty to doctors as to when terminations can be carried out and under what circumstances."

Unsurprisingly, there is pushback from anti-abortion groups in the country, who claim that Ireland's prohibitions on abortions don't involve a health risk to the mother. The Irish Church is also against such legislation. The driving factor appears to be that the lack of guidance means that all abortions are effectively prohibited, although there does exist what is termed "the British solution;" presumably women traveling to Britain for the procedure. According to the bishops of the Catholic Church in Ireland: "If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed. It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances."

Now, I was raised Roman Catholic, and attended a Catholic high school, and my understanding of Church policy was that the first part of the bishops' statement is so trumped by the first as to be very nearly false on it's face. According to Lisa Sowle Cahill, a Catholic theology instructor at Boston college, in a situation where continuing with a pregnancy places the risk of mortality at nearly 100%: "The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die." When a nun, administrator of a hospital treating a woman in just this situation approved an abortion, she was excommunicated. Now, when I was a student, back in the 1980's, I'd been taught that the Church didn't expect everyone to stand around and watch two people die, rather than just one, but that if it were a choice as to saving the mother or the child, the mother always lost out. (It seems that things have become more stringent while I was away.) How always sacrificing the mother, let alone allowing both mother and child to die, affords any protection to the mother's right to life is beyond me.

I realize, that as far as the Church is concerned, that clarifying the law is to allow for Evil acts to be committed. But the solution to that is lobby to have the laws changed, even if that means requiring that Ireland pull out of human rights treaties, and taking the public heat that this stance would require. Maintaining a de-facto ban on an otherwise legal medical procedure, while spouting empty rhetoric about how this balances competing interests, isn't an honest way to proceed.

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