Welcome to another ARC Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. This week we look at the Irish Medical Organisation conference vote and the opening of the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died from septicaemia when 17 weeks pregnant in October 2012.
POSSIBLE CHICANERY AT THE IMO
We at the Abortion Rights Campaign were initially shocked and dismayed to hear that the Irish Medical Organisation rejected three separate motions regarding the provision of legal terminations at their annual conference on Friday 5th April in Killarney. The three motions on abortion, which were proposed by Cork GP, Dr. Mary Favier and subsequently defeated provided for abortion when there is a real and substantial risk to a mother’s life, in cases of rape or incest, or if a baby would be unlikely to live outside the womb. We were at a loss to understand how a body purporting to reflect the views of the medical profession in Ireland could vote in such a fashion.
However, we have been made aware of several reasons why we should not believe everything we read as the full feelings of the IMO. Several doctors who attended insisted that the vote was not reflective of the overall views of the medical profession. According to this article in the Irish Medical News, “several former or never-before members joined in the weeks leading up to this year’s AGM and may have resigned hours after the abortion motions were debated… It is understood that some people who voted may not have been eligible to do so.”
This Letter from Neil J Brennan of Cork states that – “It is intellectually and statistically dishonest to project the outcome of today’s vote as any sort of valid poll of doctors’ opinions on the topics in the three motions debated. The pro-life movement has never had any difficulty in ensuring a full hall when issues close to its hearts are debated; meanwhile most ordinary doctors were busy in their practices looking after patients on what is a normal working day.”
Junior Health Minister, Alex White, speaking on Newstalk last Sunday said the Irish Medical Organisation’s vote against abortion will have no bearing on the government’s plans to implement legislation in the coming months.
GP Dr Mary Favier of Doctors for Choice, said she believed the defeat presented an “overwhelmingly bad image for doctors” and added that Doctors for Choice were being “bombarded with requests” to join. If you too would like to join or support Doctors For Choice, please email [email protected].
INQUEST INTO THE DEATH OF SAVITA HALAPPANAVAR
The inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway, on October 28th last year has resumed at the Coroner’s Court in Galway.
The court first heard an opening statement from Savita’s husband, Praveen, who spoke of how, on Sunday afternoon, October 21st, his wife had complained of severe back pain. They rushed to University Hospital, where they were seen by doctors, who told her that she was suffering a miscarriage and that ‘it would all be over in a few hours’.
On Monday, Praveen Halappanavar continued, Savita was examined by consultant obstetrician, Dr. Katherine Astbury, who told them that ‘unfortunately’ the foetus was still alive. The couple asked at this point for a termination but Dr. Astbury told them that this would not be possible.
The next day, Savita again asked for a termination, which was when the couple were told by the midwife manager, Anne Marie Burke – that they couldn’t get a termination because ‘This is a Catholic country’ Ms. Burke said she regretted saying this, and that she had meant it to be informative rather than censorious. Mr Halappanavar said that by late Tuesday night, Savita was shivering and unable to hold down liquids. Hospital staff attributed the shivering to the fact that the heater in her room was not working.
On Wednesday, the foetus was delivered and Savita was moved to a high dependency unit, where she would die four days later from complications following infection.
Read more here –
On Tues this week, the court heard evidence from Dr. Astbury, who said that, on the Monday, as there was a foetal heartbeat present, and there was, at that stage, no discernible risk to the life of the mother, ‘no intervention was required’. Ms. Halappanavar was upset and asked for medication to terminate the pregnancy. According to Dr. Astbury, ‘I told her that the legal position in Ireland did not permit me to terminate the pregnancy at this time’. By Wednesday 24th October, as her patient’s condition worsened, Dr. Astbury had formed the opinion that a termination would be necessary, but before this could be acted upon, Savita had delivered spontaneously.
Read more here –
Later in the proceedings, the inquest was told, by staff nurse Miriam Dunleavy, that notes on Savita’s case had been added to by the team conducting the internal HSE enquiry. The coroner, according to a BBC report ‘raised questions about the appropriateness of this action’. The hospital’s legal team are to investigate this claim and report back to the court.
Dr. Astbury admitted there had been ‘systems failure’ and ‘policy failure’ in the course of the treatment of Savita Halappanavar and that she had been unaware of significant information with regard to Savita’s white blood cell count, information that would have affected her decisions with regard to her treatment.
Read more here –
This week has highlighted to us how important a campaign for free, safe, and legal abortion is: to share information, draw attention to dark corners, support each other, and persist in demanding accountability from the government and systems that are meant to provide for our well-being.