Grant Rants

Some final thoughts on Savita Halappanavar

- November 21st, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So this week’s Grant Rant was about Savita Halappanavar, a dentist in Ireland who died because while her pregnancy was killing her and the fetus could not be saved, she was denied a life saving abortion on the grounds that Ireland is a Catholic country and abortion is wrong.

The reaction from some readers, as I have briefly noted, decided to take some shots at me rather than talk about the issue. Which is fine. It comes with the job. But the issue itself is, in fact, what matters. A spectrum of responses  in the comments section to that column are worth taking a look at.

They all share one thing in common: they ignore the fact that a woman is dead and fall into two broad catagories: Abortion is always wrong and religion is never wrong. Here are two key ones worth exploring.

1) Abortions never save a mother’s life:

It seems pretty clear by the facts of the case that have been released thus far that had Halappanavar been granted the abortion, she would have survived. At least the odds of her survival would have risen dramatically. However, the religious pro-lifers make an argument that, medically speaking, no woman ever has been saved by an abortion. This is the argument put forward today in that silly publication, the Holy Post,  by Andrea Mrozek who claims that good medical care saves lives and as medical care improves maternal mortality goes down and therefore no abortion has saved any woman, ever, anyplace.

Yes, thank you, Andrea Mrozek for pointing out that with better medical care few people die. So what? It has less than nothing to do with the case here. It’s a giant smelly red herring. The kind the Knights of Ni will ask you cut down the tallest tree in the forest with. The sad truth is that there are some medical conditions like preeclampsia and tubal pregnancies which, in some circumstances can only be resolved by ending the pregnancy. It’s awful, it’s grim but that is the facts. Fortunately they are not the norm, but they do happen. When they do, you cannot save the fetus. The only option is to save the mother or they both die. QED. At the point, those who want to make the argument that an abortion is NEVER necessary to save a woman have chosen to jump down the rabbit hole of faith thinking rather than deal with reality. And then people die.

2)The non-religious cannot make moral choices, like wanting to save Halappanavar.

This tortured argument goes like this: Saying Halappanavar should have been saved is a moral choice, and since morals cannot be decided by science, the desire to save her is a kind of faith thinking. Therefore, there is no grounds to say she should saved unless one accepts the morals of a religion, in this case, Catholicism.

This is in effect, the old moral argument for god which claims we cannot know right from wrong without divine warrant.

I think the first place to start to answer this one is from Christopher Hitchens, who demolishes the argument better than I can. It’s worth viewing the full interview. But I will say this. We know that our evolved faculties, including our ethical and moral impulses, are innate in us. They are not perfect, but they are there and are powerful. As social creatures we would not be able to even form the smallest groups that function if they didn’t.  Choosing to guide one’s ethics by saying that that reducing or eliminating suffering is a worthy cause neither requires, nor is dependent upon, the guidance of an unseen hand. And science can indeed be a guide by providing us with a clearer view of reality. If morals and ethics can be seen, as they I think they can (and I tend to agree with Sam Harris on this point) about human well being, then science is a powerful tool to help us decide action.

What I have taken away from some of the visceral response to that column is that there is a spectrum of “pro-lifers” who hold human life very cheaply. The death of a woman is vastly less important to them that the often, I dare say, irrational defense of the mixture of theology and politics that lead to her demise. The faith is more important than life. Even though there was no saving the fetus in this case, no exception can be made, even though the consequence was obvious.

When belief in the supernatural trumps the hard facts on the ground, when they contribute the death of an innocent, something has gone very wrong. Those who defend this view, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Categories: News, philosophy, religion, science

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2 comments

  1. Karrie says:

    I would characterize the piece you wrote as mildly pro-choice and not remotely controversial, yet the responses to it from some of the pro-life nutjobs were outrageous. Thank jesus :-) they are the minority in this country.

  2. Marianne says:

    If the doctors themselves held the view that pregnancy can never endanger a woman’s life, they should never have been allowed to practise. Considering that death in childbirth was once quite common, this is a counter factual belief which can only be based on blind dogma.

    I really find it very upsetting that some idiots have been saying ‘the doctors are heroes.’ How deluded can you get? They were sanctimonious sadists who have the blood of this young dentist on their hands. To these nuts, that they did not even save the foetus and could not have done so, is not an issue. Why did they not even give Savita antibiotics? She died agonisingly and slowly of blood poisoning. It looks like murder or at least manslaughter.

    As a matter of interest, Catholicsm’s blanket ban on abortion is a modern development. Even Tertulian, an extreme misogynist Father of the Church favoured abortion to save a woman’s life As late as 1960, Belgian Catholic nuns, raped by insurgents in the Congo, were given operations to prevent them giving birth, with the Vatican’s blessing. It was not called abortion. It was called something else.

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