independent

Friday 18 April 2014

David Quinn: Media rushes to judge but we don't know facts

The British media, in tandem with the Irish, is running with the 'woman dies because she was denied abortion' story headline.

It's not surprising that the likes of 'The Guardian' would give the story prominence because 'The Guardian' is fiercely pro-abortion.

In Britain it fits in with a certain stereotype of this country to believe that women are dying here because of our lingering adherence to Catholic medical ethics.

However, even the more pro-life 'Daily Telegraph' and 'Daily Mail' have given the story prominence.That would be justified if we knew that Savita Halappanavar did indeed die because she was denied an abortion, but that is not why she died.

We know this because if there was a need to end her pregnancy in order to save her life, then the hospital was free to do that. Nothing in law was preventing the hospital from doing so.

And to be absolutely clear, ending a woman's pregnancy prematurely is not necessarily the same thing as abortion.

For example, inducing labour where it is necessary to save the life of the mother is not the same as abortion and Irish hospitals induce labour in these circumstances on a regular basis.

From the available facts, we know that Mrs Halappanavar was miscarrying and that she died within days of being admitted to hospital from septicemia and E Coli ESBL.

We do not know for certain whether ending the pregnancy upon her arrival in the hospital would have saved her life, but to repeat, if medical staff needed to do that they could have done it.

Therefore the 'woman dies because she was denied abortion' storyline is simply not true. The 'woman dies because of Catholic opposition to abortion' is also not true.

We simply do not know for certain at this stage whether Mrs Halappanavar would have died no matter what was done. This is what the investigation into her death will ascertain.

And we must also repeat for the umpteenth time that Ireland has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world. It is lower than the British rate where abortion is available on demand.

In addition, it is necessary to remind ourselves that sometimes women die because of botched abortions in legal settings. Indeed, last year a doctor – Phanuel Dartey – was struck off in Britain because he nearly killed an Irish woman while performing an abortion on her in a Marie Stopes Clinic in the UK.

This story received remarkably little publicity here in Ireland. RTE did not cover it at all, whereas it has given the Savita Halappanavar story wall-to-wall coverage. Why this discrepancy?

And by what journalistic calculus did RTE decide to give so little coverage to the revelation by this newspaper that some staff at pregnancy crisis agencies in Ireland are giving women dangerous and illegal advice? It would be good to know.

There has been a tremendous and unseemly rush to judgment in this case.

It is being used to advance the argument that Ireland must change its law on abortion before we know the full facts.

It is also being used to falsely and unjustly give the impression that Ireland is an unsafe place for pregnant women when the opposite is true.

The bottom line is that we cannot draw any decisive conclusions about what happened in this tragic case until we do know all the facts.

Irish Independent

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