The Femo: The flawed logic of no choice
In Ireland, an avoidable tragedy has struck. Savita Halappavanar, a 31-year-old dentist, was admitted to Galway University Hospital with severe pain. It became apparent that she was miscarrying her 17-week-old fetus. Over a three-day period of intense pain, Halappavanar repeatedly requested an abortion, according to her husband.
The doctors refused because the fetus still had a detectable heartbeat. At one point, the Halappavanars were told, “This is a Catholic country.”
Once Halappavanar had miscarried, doctors removed the dead fetus. But it was too late for Halappavanar. She died of septicemia on Oct. 28.
From a utilitarian standpoint, an outright refusal to perform an abortion on Halappavanar doesn’t compute. Had doctors simply aborted the fetus when Halappavanar first requested they do so, the major harms would be to an insentient fetus, its parents, and the friends and family who were looking forward to the baby’s birth.
Instead, not only did the fetus die, but so did a sentient woman with many ties to the people in her life. Halappavanar’s husband, parents, relatives, and friends must now mourn her and learn to live without someone who had been a part of their lives for 31 years.
Irish law permits abortions when there is a “real and substantive threat” to the mother’s life, yet doctors implied that because Ireland is a Catholic country, abortions did not happen there and they would not perform one on Halappavanar. Was there no doctor in the hospital who could separate his or her own personal beliefs from the terrifying reality that without a legal abortion, this woman, herself not Catholic, was going to die? Were her consent and begging not enough to move the doctors to action?
In her last moments, Halappavanar must have suffered the greatest harm of all: the feeling that she was at death’s doorstep, but could not do anything about it.