Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Life of the Mother

In 2012, people were horrified when a woman named Savita Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital from infection as a consequence of miscarriage at 17 weeks.  There was no question that the fetus would not survive, but Irish law was adamant that until the fetus was actually dead, or the mother nearly dead, they could not terminate the pregnancy.  Mark you, there was no chance of survival for the fetus at this point. But still they waited, until the infection from the dying fetus became sepsis and killed the mother.

In court, this was ruled "medical misadventure".  One specialist said that if they had terminated the pregnancy a day or two earlier, it would have saved the mother's life.  This disdain for a woman's life sparked calls for reform of Irish abortion laws.

Turns out that Roman Catholic hospitals in this country  do the same thng.  This report from Michigan details 5 women in similar condition to Savita.  It's just lucky none of them died. My emphasis:
All five women, the report says, had symptoms indicating that it would be safest for them to deliver immediately. But instead of informing the women of their options, the report says, or offering to transfer them to a different hospital, doctors – apparently out of deference to the Mercy Health Partners’ strict ban on abortion – unilaterally decided to subject the women to prolonged miscarriages.  
As a result, the report claims, several of the women suffered infection or emotional trauma, or had to undergo unnecessary surgery. None of the women were pregnant beyond 24 weeks, when an infant can survive outside the womb. 
The report has not previously been made public. And it offers a disturbing look at how religious restrictions may interfere with emergency care. Catholic control of US hospitals has ballooned in the last 15 years, and with it, patient advocates warn, the risk that the US Bishops’ bans on abortion, contraception and sterilization will prevent thousands of women from receiving critical healthcare.
What these tragic cases all have in common is a Roman Catholic mandated disdain for the lives of women over a dead or dying infant--and in all cases, this a wanted child.  It ultimately treats women as a container and if she dies along the way (along with her fetus, we might add, because the baby's death is inevitable in these cases), oh so sad too bad.  Better that, than a woman survives a tragic loss and perhaps has another child.  Better that, than she survives to take care of her other children.  And it's this disdain that is so frightening.

Now, people of good will can reasonably disagree about limits on abortion (vilifying one another is not helpful so behave yourselves in the comments).  The majority of Americans agrees that abortion should be legal, at least under some circumstances, even if they personally do not think it's moral. Generally, people are more comfortable with abortion in the first trimester,  as early as possible, or in case of rape or incest.  (Aside: The rape-incest exception is logically inconsistent if you are a pro-lifer, however:  a baby is a baby, right?  However, the majority is very clear that abortion in this case is okay). Most are comfortable with increasing restrictions later on.  And, Americans strongly believe that it should be legal if the woman's physical life is endangered. So then, I guess the question is, how endangered does endangered have to be?  And the answer is, ask Savita's husband.

I don't think women get abortions on a whim.  Some of the most heartbreaking abortion stories were collected by Andrew Sullivan about women whose most wanted child turned out to have life-ending defects, or who had severe medical challenges to the mother, that made abortion a necessary and very painful medical choice. These should be read.  I would never, ever want the government to interfere with a woman's right to that choice and her own bodily integrity.   (Aside:  Of course, if you want to reduce women choosing abortions for other than health reasons, then reduce unwanted pregnancy by providing decent sex education and contraceptive access, and provide educational and economic opportunities for women and their families.  Family leave and day care,  decent jobs and education for example.  Otherwise, as Sr Joan Chittister writes, you are pro-birth, not pro-life.)  

Meanwhile, there's another tragedy blooming in South and Central America, where Zika virus is linked to increased microcephaly:  children born with abnormally small heads. (BTW, it is not caused by a pesticide; so don't go there.)  This may have little effect on the child, or lead to profound developmental defects-- impossible to tell.  Countries like El Salvador have recommended that women not get pregnant till 2018, which is not realistic in a poor predominantly Roman Catholic country with poor contraceptive access, and criminalization of abortion.  You really think the men of El Salvador are going to forgo sex for 2 years? And impoverished women with poor healthcare access, just how will they raise a disabled child? And so terrified women who are already pregnant are seeking chemical abortions. 

You know, here's the challenge for the pro-birth side to prove that they're really pro life.  Don't want to see abortion?  Get boots on the ground in Central and South America to provide contraception. (Even the Pope agrees.)  And provide care for pregnant women and support for raising potentially severely disabled children.

Otherwise, both of these examples simply show religiously-justified disdain for the rights, health and lives of women.

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