The missing child in the right to abort

The question is whether such an outburst seen in the media here and the crowds that gathered in Dublin and London was purely out of love for Savita

Now that the media hysteria over the untimely and unfortunate death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar on October 28 in Galway University Hospital in Ireland, due to a reported miscarriage and the abortion denied to her, is over, we can begin to look at the issue of abortion and the heat it generated more rationally.

There was a public outcry both in Ireland and India at the sad incident. Though the reports of the investigation as to what really happened is still awaited, it appears from facts that have been made public till now that it might have been possible to save Savita’s life if proper and timely medical attention had been given to her. Prima facie it seems that the doctors might have made a mistake in maintaining that since Ireland was a Catholic country termination of pregnancy “at any cost” was illegal. While the doctors might have been right in quoting the law of the land to Savita and her husband, their duty was to do everything possible to save her life.
This incident has raised once again sharpened the debate between the pro-life and pro-choice groups. In the recently concluded as well as most earlier American presidential elections, bitter debate on this issue between these two groups is almost inevitable. And often in these debates the Catholic Church and its teaching on the issue is made to appear as the villain and demands are made that pro-life laws be changed.
“The Christian stance”, as explained by Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao, president of the National United Christian Forum (NUCF), in New Delhi, “is that an abortion can never be done because it means the death of a defenceless, feeble life in the womb. But another medical procedure can be performed as long as the intention is to save the mother’s life, even if the procedure may end the life of the child. The death of the child is foreseen but not willed”.
Similarly, Section 21.4 of Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners states, “In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”
Life is held sacred by everyone, including the Church. The lives of both Savita and her baby were important. As of now no one knows what exactly happened in the hospital but media hysteria in India over this case was unprecedented, rarely witnessed before over the death of individuals who have died in much more tragic circumstances. In India, according to the Centre for Reproductive Rights, every five minutes a woman dies while delivering a child. A staggering 20 per cent of such worldwide deaths occur in our country (56,000 in 2010). According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Health, most such deaths are avoidable. When I raised this point during a discussion on a TV news channel, I was labelled “unpatriotic” on the one hand and accused of batting for Ireland on the other.
The question is whether such an outburst seen in the media here and the crowds that gathered in Dublin, London and the BJP women’s group outside the Irish ambassador’s residence in Delhi was purely out of love for Savita. The media and pro-choice campaigners made full use of the opportunity — one, to push its TRPs and the other its agenda. I participated in many television debates but was unable to understand what feminists exactly mean when they say that “abortion” is about exercising their right over their bodies. I see it as a demand for the right to destroy a defenceless life which grows daily in the womb.
Despite all the awareness campaigns by NGOs and governments against female foeticide, if the situation has not improved it is because society takes a rather casual attitude towards abortion. If society was more serious in questioning the right of a child to be born, we would not have millions of missing girls.
While the Christian position on abortion is being pilloried by all and sundry, it is being forgotten that no religion or philosophy says anything favourable on abortion. And even if we were to keep religion aside for a moment, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. Is that not in total consonance with what all the religions, including Christianity, hold?
While Savita’s death has certainly shaken everyone, let us not forget that many people, including men, die of septicemia. One of our great artists, Smita Patil, too died of septicemia at the age of 31, same as Savita, a few days after giving birth to her son, Prateik. Smita, like Savita, was neither Catholic nor Irish. Ultimately, it is God who has control over our lives. If doctors alone could save lives, our ancestors would have been still alive and no doctor would have ever died.

The writer, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church.

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