Termination of pregnancy as emergency obstetric care: the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women.

An analysis of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and similar cases

Reproductive Health Matters 2013;21(41):9–17

Marge Berer

Abstract:

Issues arising from the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland in October 2012 include the question of whether it is unethical to refuse to terminate a non-viable pregnancy when the woman’s life may be at risk. In Catholic maternity services, this decision intersects with health professionals’ interpretation of Catholic health policy on treatment of miscarriage as well as the law on abortion. This paper explores how these issues came together around Savita’s death and the consequences for pregnant women and maternity services worldwide. It discusses cases not only in Ireland but also the Americas. Many of the events presented are recent, and most of the sources are media and individual reports. However, there is a very worrying common thread across countries and continents. If further research unearths more cases like Savita’s, any Catholic health professionals and/or hospitals refusing to terminate a pregnancy as emergency obstetric care should be stripped of their right to provide maternity services. In some countries these are the main or only existing maternity services. Even so, governments should refuse to fund these services, and either replace them with non-religious services or require that non-religious staff are available at all times specifically to take charge of such cases to prevent unnecessary deaths. At issue is whether a woman’s life comes first or not at all.

 

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