The Brandsma Review

Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland

Issue 123, November-December 2012


IT IS HARD not to think of the tale of Savita Halappanavar and its horrendous aftermath as a case of Hibernia contra mundum, or perhaps, mundus contra Hiberniam. Those prone to conspiracy theories must be working overtime. Just as the Expert Group on Abortion was due to present its well flagged report to recommend abortion legislation, Savita Halappananvar’s tragic death metamorphosed into a horror story about Ireland’s backwardness and threatened to become a re-educational moment for the retarded people of Ireland.

The narrative of a foreign-born woman, suffering a miscarriage, allegedly denied an abortion by the guardians of religion, and then dying in agony was tailor-made opportunity for the zealots of choice, and, by jiminy, they were up to the challenge. Like a well trained SWAT team, they leaped into action to engineer a rerun of the X case furore in 1992 when popular indignation and international outrage panicked a government and a supreme court into a rushed and calamitous decision, the consequences of which we are faced with ever since.

The abortion lobby had certain advantages. Although numerically few in the population, they had the Labour Party on their side as well as well positioned members in the print media and RTÉ, thenational broadcaster. Indeed, the abortion-promoters had good reason to believe that 2012 was to be the year of the final push to open the door to abortion, so firmly closed—or so it seemed—by the pro-life amendment in 1983. In the ABC case in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights had put the Irish government in the dock for the law’s lack of clarity on abortion, but this was reported in the media as demanding legislation based on the X case.

The Minister for Health had appointed an Expert Group on Abortion with a clear pro-abortion bias to advise the government about responding to the European Court of Human Rights. Then, in October, Marie Stopes made an almost miraculous appearance in
Belfast, promising to offer abortions to the oppressed women of the province, and making the Northern Ireland administration look flat-footed and powerless.  And finally, in late October, the perfect “propaganda of the deed” came together in Galway and landed into the ready hands of the “Choicers”.

On October 21, Savita Halappanavar, an Indian national of 31, went to University Hospital Galway complaining of a severe back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant and it soon became clear that she was miscarrying. Her husband, 34-year-old Praveen Halappanavar, said that she asked several times if the pregnancy could be terminated, when the miscarriage failed to complete, but—according to his account—she was told that the foetal heartbeat was still present, and her requests were refused because, “This is a Catholic country.” After three days the heartbeat stopped and the dead foetus was removed. Three days later, Savita Halappanavar died of acute septicaemia on October 28. On Prime Time, Mr Halappanavar stated unequivocally that his wife would be alivetoday, had she been given an abortion.

Professional counselling

According to Galway Pro Choice (GPC), the local pro-abortion group, a group of friends of the deceased woman approached GPC on November 3 to obtain advice on how to “make sure that what happened to Savita would never happen to another woman”. Savita’s husband had briefed this group of friends with his explanation of why his wife had died, one that blamed the hospital, the law and the Catholic Church, all of which had denied her a life-saving abortion.

According to its hand-on-its-heart statement, the GPC pondered carefully like a professional counsellor, and offered three options: to say nothing, to release an anonymous account, or to go fully public with complete personal details. With Mr Halappanavar’s unqualified support, they decided on the third option. Hardly surprising! Since 1983, the abortion campaigners have been waiting for a woman to be killed by the pro-life amendment, and now such a case seemed to be within their grasp.

GPC, no doubt over the moon at the story, contacted the Irish Choice Network (ICN) which began to plan how to maximise the impact of the event and frame the narrative for public consumption. To start, Kitty Holland, the daughter of the veteran feminist, Mary Holland, and a journalist with The Irish Times, was selected to write the story. The “paper of record” was only too willing to use its considerable resources to push the abortion agenda. The newspaper waited until November 14 to break the story, giving time for the campaigners to organise “spontaneous” manifestations of outrage and sorrow.

Spontaneous indignation

The headline for Holland’s piece said it all, “Woman ‘denied a termination’ dies in hospital.” The story retailed Mr Halappanavar’s allegation that Savita had begged repeatedly for a termination, but the hospital staff denied it because “This is a Catholic country”. Abortion was presented as a life-saving operation, and Irish hospitals as ruled by a cruel religious dogma that allows women to suffer and die for the sake of a “foetus”. Without doubt, fellow travellers in RTÉ and other newspapers were tipped off, the story was relayed across the world, and a well prepared series of demonstrations and street theatre followed in most cities and towns of Ireland. The message was simple: It was not a miscarriage or septicaemia which killed Savita. No, it was Ireland’s prolife culture and laws that directly caused her death. And this has to change!

Both GPC and Savita’s friends see themselves as holding the torch of women’s rights in the land of darkness and oppression, that is, Catholic Ireland. More than once, GPC asked, How could they (the nasty “anti-choicers”) accuse us of exploiting Savita’s death? And this from the same group that argues, “The only way to safeguard the health of pregnant women in Ireland is to guarantee access to free, safe, and legal abortion for all women.” With amazing disingenuousness, the GPC quoted Savita’s friends as expressing amazement that anyone could say that GPC were “taking advantage of” or “hijacking” the tragedy of Savita’s death. In fact, they made a deliberate choice to exploit the tragic death of Savita to advance their own social agenda and to whip up a national and international outrage against this country. Shame on them.

The sheer mindlessness of accusation and hypocrisy, faithfully reproduced in The Irish Times and broadcast on RTÉ, was staggering. Unfounded speculation is best left to the sensational tabloids, but this case is somehow different. Our national fee-supported broadcaster and the paper of record swallowed the narrative as served up by the pro-abortion lobby in the form of the Irish Choice Network. In a matter of hours, Kitty Holland’s narrative had gone international.

Solemn-faced youngsters at Columbia University in New York held a vigil—I nearly wrote “prayer vigil”—for Savita, oblivious that over one million abortions take place in the USA every year, and botched abortions routinely mutilate and kill women.  Irish Times pundit, Ann Marie Hourihan, breathlessly wrote that America was “left agog at confused cruelty of Irish abortion law”. Is she living in the real world?

“Murdered in Ireland.” The narrative was clear, whether it appeared in India’s Hindustan Times, the UK’s Guardian or the New York Times. Pregnant women die needlessly in Ireland because of rigid Catholic morality. Ex-Catholic feature writers had a field day, for example, “A Death to Shame the Pope” in The Sunday Times. Then, we were lectured by an indignant India for “murdering” one of their citizens. One politician, Brinda Karat stated: “… they (the Irish) preferred to sacrifice the young woman’s life rather than to do something which have gone against their religious belief.” Then, the India ambassador to Ireland weighed in with a public demand that Ireland change its abortion laws, surely an extraordinary intervention for a diplomat. Indian politicians and journalists paraded their indignation, also oblivious that in this sub-continent untold numbers of yet-to-be-born girls are eliminated in a gendercide rivalled only by China’s. Do not thousands of poor Indian women die in pregnancy and birth from lack of basic maternal healthcare? While Ireland’s figure for maternal mortality is six per 100,000 live births, India’s is a whopping 212. How many Savitas die painfully in India?

Villified healthcare

Ireland’s excellent healthcare for mothers and babies has been unjustly vilified in the international media on the basis of the half-truths and propaganda generated by the ICN and The Irish Times. The medical profession was nonplussed at the Halappanavar narrative. No less a person than the Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, dismissed the claim that Savita’s death had anything to do with abortion law. The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, stated that he knew why she had died, but her death had nothing to do with the country’s abortion laws, although he could not divulge his source.

In the meantime, the medical personnel of the University Hospital who had treated Savita during her illness were under investigation, as always follows an untimely maternal fatality, and were bound to remain silent. The hospital which has an excellent record on maternal healthcare—it is 18 years since the last fatality—must feel exceedingly unhappy at the narrative that is now embedded across the world.  It must have been galling to be the subject of abuse and judgment but unable to reply, explain or defend their decisions. The pro-abortion lobby seized the opportunity to fill in the gap with its own narrative, the purpose of which is to bring abortion into Irish hospitals.

The fallout of the Savita narrative did not leave pro-life groups and speakers untouched. The social media especially Twitter were filled with the foulest abuse for well-known defenders of Ireland’s defenders of unborn humans. David Quinn of Iona Institute gathered a few prize-winning specimens, so, if you have a strong stomach, read

One witness’ recollection

The key to the narrative is the exclusive testimony of Savita’s husband, Praveen Hallapanavar who alone was present when she entered hospital and was found to be miscarrying. He is the sole origin of the claim that his wife asked more than once for an abortion, that she was refused her request on religious grounds, and that an abortion would have saved her life. There has been no information from the medical personnel who treated Savita during her final eight days in Galway University Hospital.

Mr Halappanavar said he had “no doubt” that his wife would still be alive if she had had an abortion. Just how an engineer can make such an absolute statement is puzzling. Medical practice is not the same as engineering. He was the source of the alleged refusal of the doctors to act, because “This is a Catholic country”, and gave his full approval when a group of Indian friends in Galway brought his story to Irish Choice Network, allowing it to co-ordinate the campaign. In the words of Eilis O’Hanlon, the initial coverage of The Irish Times “opted to present what had happened as a simple morality tale” and that “the debate for the rest of the week was coloured entirely by The Irish Times’ decision to reduce a complex personal tragedy, about which few facts were still known, to a rallying call” for legal abortion.

Kitty Holland framed the story as a morality tale to excite national outrage at the lack of elective abortion in Ireland, even though the medical facts of the case were sparse and despite the repeated assertion of obstetricians that abortion had nothing to do with the
case. Without the abortion element, Savita’s death would have been a family tragedy and an embarrassing fatality for the hospital; like a very similar case at the Rotunda in 2011, it would have hardly merited a footnote in The Irish Times.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, advised journalists, “I don’t think we should say anything about this until we are in possession of all the facts”, a somewhat belated piece of advice. The Health Service Executive (HSE) named Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran to head a seven-member panel looking into the case. The panel will seek to uncover all the facts and “to identify any safety issues arising in this case”, and will present a report before Christmas. Maybe if we’re lucky!

The only hard fact to come to light was the result of the postmortem that showed that the cause of her death was blood poisoning and E.coli ESBL, a highly dangerous antibiotic-resistant strain of bacterium. This confirmed the suspicion of Microbiologist Dr
James Clair of Cork Mercy Hospital who had earlier suggested that the real issue may be septicaemia caused by “extended-spectrum beta-lactamase positive gram negative bacteria” (ESBL), which “are now spreading rapidly within the Irish population” and are resistant to most known antibiotic treatments.

As of now, the narrative of Mr Hallapanavar, shaped by Kitty Holland, orchestrated by an international pro-abortion network, is wearing thin. In an astonishing statement, his lawyer, Gerard O’Donnell, now denies that his client ever claimed that an abortion would have saved his wife’s life, even though his interview on Prime Time soon after her death contradicts this. “My client wants to know why a request for a termination was refused… Mr Halappanavar has never claimed in any interview that a termination could have saved his wife’s life.”

The changing story

In a radio interview, Kitty Holland was subjected to some searching questions (for once), and no longer seemed so certain that Mr Halappanavar’s recollections were correct. She claimed to stand by her story but then back-pedalled, denying that she had made
the refusal of an abortion the cause of death. Asked why there were inconsistencies in the Halappanavar account, she replied, “All one can surmise is that his (Praveen’s) recollection of events—the actual timeline and days—may be a little muddled.”

And then this remarkable retreat from her report on November 14: “We only have Praveen and his solicitor’s take on what was in or not in the notes… we’re relying all the time on their take on what happened.”

Asked then if she was satisfied with Halappanavar’s general account, she replied, “Oh, I’m not satisfied of anything. I’m satisfied of what he told me, but I await as much as anyone else the inquiry and the findings. I can’t tell for certain—who knows what will come out in that inquiry?” Just who is muddled about her twin roles as an investigative journalist and a campaigner for abortion?

“They may come back and say she came in with a disease she caught from something outside the hospital before she even arrived in…” Yes, and maybe there was no request for an abortion! And what of these throw-away remarks from the journalist who broke the story and the newspaper that set off the international condemnation of Ireland as “some benighted, backward, bigoted land where religious dogma takes precedence over young women’s lives”, to quote Eilis O’Hanlon again.


Also in this issue:


Lessons from the Children’s Rights Referendum
Our Precarious State…Remember the Holy Innocents


Dr Joe McCarroll

David Manly

Nick Lowry

Keith Francis

Father Brendan Purcell

Peadar Laighléis

Brian Ó hIcídhe

Joe Aston

From the Editor’s Desk; A Letter to the Editor from Jim Allen; Another list from Francis Book Sales; Hurling Shots from the Ditch including ‘No Papist Need Apply’, and ‘One Swallow Does Not Make a Summer’; and Straws for the Camel’s Back including ‘Hatred of Romanism’, ‘Those Gory Pictures’, ‘How Opposites Attract’, and ‘Champion of the Jesuits’.


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This entry was posted on November 1, 2012 by in Issues 2012, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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