Victim of Abortion and Religion in Ireland

By Abhijit Sirdesai

Published on March 15, 2015

The latest news flash that spurt intercontinental repercussions was the case of Savita Halappanavar, a dentist by profession, who lost her life owing to miscarriage that resulted in multiple organ failure culminating into loss of life. This occurred in Ireland.

It is clear that a timely abortion would have prevented the unfortunate event. The Irish hospital was held responsible for the denial of abortion in Savita’s case. Hospital officials, however, had put forth an official say that Ireland, being a catholic nation, prohibits abortion on religious grounds.

The denial to abort the fetus thus was not ignorance or the negligence on the part of hospital officials but in fact, was an adherence to the law of the land.

Well, outwardly, this stand by the University Hospital Galway shows them perfectly law-abiding.

The protests that spilled over in different countries compelled an interrogation at the administrative level in Savita’s case and a commission to review the law relating to the abortion matters was set up.

The legislators publicly stated that they will back the step to reform the law accordingly. This definitely ensured the prevention of any future damage or loss of life arising out of abortion cases. Proactive humanitarians played a vital role in building up a congruent public opinion and paved the way for the Human Rights Commission to plunge in for justice. Initially, it was not clear whether the act or the omission of the hospital officials was owing to the lapse and therefore was an inadvertent mistake or deliberate inaction.

On the humanitarian grounds, the medics were under an obligation to act for a positive outcome setting aside all their religious beliefs. This is what the humanitarians think. If they had not acted otherwise, the only reliable defense the hospital officials would put-forth when the principle of ignorentia juris non excusat comes into play is that the exceptions laid by the Supreme Court in abortion matters is not been incorporated in the statutes and thus does not exist as a publicly known law. And, thus they can’t be held responsible for not adhering to the rule of law that did not exist on the statute book. They still might plead that the Irish law with its catholic blend considers the unborn fetus as a new life coming into being and bestows citizenship and not letting it take an expected natural form is an offense punishable by imprisonment. And this they were abiding by.

As a matter of course, the onus shifts from the hospital officials to the legislators who failed to bring a law that incorporates the exceptions as laid by the Supreme Court. The reason to deny the abortion given by the officials was not seconded by the Catholic Church.

The Irish Supreme Court, in 1992, carved out an exception as to when an abortion is permissible. It specified that in the event of the threat to the life of the fetus bearer, the medics are justified in their actions to go for an abortion in order to save the life of the pregnant woman. A concurring statement followed from the church veterans stating that it is against saving an unborn at the risk of losing the pregnant woman’s life. These remarks made the hospital officials more vulnerable and an investigation was ordered to unearth the facts.

The mass outcry, however, was not to make the hospital officials a scapegoat but to expect a rule change, to invoke an immediate action, to set up a national commission to review the existing law relating to abortion and certainly to create a new legal framework which is just. Lastly, it is obvious to think why religion prohibits abortion and why does the state consider a fetus to be a citizen? All know that scientific discovery has made us know the development of an unborn child from its very conception and the religion precedes such discoveries in matters of time and period.

Yet, the Catholic Church considers abortion as inhumane and makes it a religious matter and accords an individual status for a fetus as it has a life too. A thought that lingers on mind is that Ireland is not a densely populated nation and the birth rate in the nations falling in the northern hemisphere is quite low as compared to the countries nearing the equator that enjoy a moderate climate which is feasible for reproduction and growth.

This makes us think that to some extent the church plays a smaller role under the guise of religion to see that a balanced birth rate is attained. This, however, is a personal and a shallow outlook. At present, we sigh for the stand taken by the church saying that a life of pregnant woman precedes that of the unborn when there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman due to pregnancy and hope that they make it more clear and precise to cover every complexity involved in the abortion matters.

A more just law is incorporated in Ireland after the incident. For the curious readers, here are a few web links that will enable quick and easy comparison of law on abortion matters in different countries.

1. An article published in The Guardian gives a vivid picture of abortion rights around the world. Click here

2. An insight into the policy and practice of abortion in India Click here

(The victim of an untreated miscarriage, Late. Savita Halappannavar, was from Belgaum, Karnataka, which is also the hometown of the author)

The Author

Abhijit Sirdesai is law practitioner having prior industry-association with key multi-national organizations doing business in the field of legal process outsourcing in India.

Article picture: Da Vinci Studies of Embryos Luc Viatour. Source: Wikipedia.


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