Religion at the Cost of Life?

Preethi Krishnan November 20, 2012

Savita Halappanavar (BBC)


The message cannot be clearer. Ireland, the country that ranks first in the world for having the lowest Maternal Mortality Ratio, is now in the news for the death of an Indian woman. Savita Halappanavar lost her life on 28th October 2012, because her doctors in the Galaway Hospital refused her request for an abortion, stating that the fetus had a heartbeat.

Apparently, the doctors informed the couple, that Ireland was a Catholic country and that they could not perform the abortion as per the Irish law. Before we discuss the law under question, let us discuss the debate. Pro-life (really?) activists have found themselves short of words at this loss of life. However, they seek to derail the debate by bringing in tangential arguments. They argue that this was a case of “misdiagnosis”. By laying the blame on the doctor’s individual judgment, they seek to absolve the church and the government from its responsibilities. They refuse to see how religion and the church have influenced the medical community in their “judgment” leading to the loss of a mother, even in a country where maternal mortality has been traditionally low.

What does the Irish law say? The Irish constitution states,

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Keep abortion legal
Apparently, the doctors informed the couple, that Ireland was a Catholic country and that they could not perform the abortion as per the Irish law.
Photograph by World Can't Wait

The trouble lies primarily with the law. Twenty years ago, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortions can be allowed when there was a substantial risk to the life of the woman. However, this ruling was never enacted as a law. When the right to life of the unborn is considered equal to the life of the mother, is it any surprise that errors of medical judgment happen? Why are doctors expected to make a judgment on the law and religion while treating their patients? As a prochoice medical professional Dr. Edward states in a panel discussion in BBC, “Medicine should be based on compassion and scientific evidence.” Not on religious considerations.

The Irish law continues

"This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state. This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.”

This is a funny amendment to the law and the subtle suggestion that women are free to travel to England to undergo abortion. Cheating our Gods, are we?

The terminology “equal right” for the unborn is the rhetoric of the Church. Consider how similar the Irish law is to the words in the press statement of the Joseph Dias, Gen. Sec., The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum.

“One cannot give more rights to the mother and less to the unborn child. Both have an equal right to life. An unborn child has a right to be treated with dignity and respect, especially since the unborn life cannot defend itself. Science shows that a child is no less human, with a heartbeat as early as 18 days after conception. The unborn child on conception is not potential life, but life with potential - new, unique & not to be snuffed out or extinguished. It is therefore also wrong to permit 'murder' by abortion even a day into pregnancy, as allowed by legislation, ranging from as less as 20 weeks in India. An unborn life is the most vulnerable & defenseless member of the human race, who has no choice or say.”

Abortion without apology
The statement from the Catholic Church says that the unborn child needs to be shown “dignity and respect” and abortion even after a day into pregnancy should be considered as “murder”. It is high time that this currency of guilt is questioned.
Photograph by World Can't Wait

The biggest and the most absurd assumption underlying these statements and the Irish law is the notion that the mother in question neither has a heart nor a brain! It assumes that women run around casually having abortions. It assumes that women take no responsibility for their own baby, so much so that it requires an external religious organization or the government to take the decision for them. Is there anything that could be further from the truth? In 2009, there were about 18.1 million children in the United States (yet another “advanced” country where abortion is still debated although it is legal) living in single-mother families, in spite of the conditions of the poverty that they are thrown into. Surely, mothers are taking far more responsibilities for their children than the respective fathers. Even then, the church and the government consider it their prerogative to take decisions for the woman and to impinge upon her right over her body. In Savita’s case, it is not just her right to choose but her most basic right to live! And this is advocated as “pro-life”?

The rhetoric from the Catholic Church has to be scrutinized very closely. The statement says that the unborn child needs to be shown “dignity and respect” and abortion even after a day into pregnancy should be considered as “murder”. This play of words is designed to make women feel guilty about their choices. As I stated above, women do not choose abortion for fancy. It is more often than not, a very difficult choice. Sometimes, the ‘woman’ is a girl, who is too young to be a mother. How fair is it to subject women and young teenagers to these guilt inducing words?
It is high time that this currency of guilt is questioned. Often, one is advised to be vary of offending people’s religious feelings. For a change, the Church needs to reconsider its own strategy of offending and manipulating human feelings by using their rhetoric of guilt! Jesus would be more pleased.


church, relegious fundamentalism, Gender, Note, Struggles Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

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