Thoughts on Savita

Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman living in Ireland, was refused an abortion during a complicated miscarriage at 17 weeks because the fetus — unviable though it was — still had a heartbeat. When abortion was the only recourse to save the mother’s life, the doctors refused, telling her and her husband “this is a Catholic country”. The abortion was finally performed after the baby died two whole days later, but it was too late for Savita. As a direct result of that delay, she died of septicemia. She would have survived if the pregnancy had been terminated at the first sign of complication. Hell, she could have been saved if doctors had simply prioritized the heartbeat of the viable human being over the unviable one.

People around these parts have vented their frustrations already. Brianne reinforces the fact that atheism intersects reproductive rights (and thus human rights — reproductive freedom is not only a feminist ideal, but a human rights one!). Ophelia lays the blame for the needless death squarely at the feet of Catholicism. Zinnia decries the theocratic dystopian nightmare the country has evidently become. Avicenna wonders why the country is so faithful despite the innumerable Catholic pedophilia and abuse scandals in the country. Dana points out that the Catholics ignored one entity with a heartbeat in favour of another, for no ready reason. But Stephanie nails that reason — the doctors, being good Catholics, let Savita die because she was failing at her one duty: making babies.

I barely have anything I can add to this collective howl of outrage except, maybe, a bitter and jaded sigh. And a request of adherents.

This kind of thing will happen again and again, anywhere that religion has short-circuited people’s empathy and anywhere Catholicism in particular has gained a foothold. I know, others have their own pet hated religions, and I’m not saying any of their reasons for disliking their particular religions are invalid, but I just don’t personally get the same sense that their participants are self-righteous, self-satisfied fucks with completely broken moral compasses the way I generally do with Catholicism. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in it, with northern New Brunswick being so predominantly Roman Catholic, owing to its heavy French Acadian population. Most people tend to put higher priority on things they’ve personally experienced. So maybe there are truly worse religions. This one still has earned a special place in my loathing.

It’s all too easy to blame the religion itself and absolve the lay believers of any responsibility. Catholic adherents ignore the proscriptions against contraception and most consider it morally acceptable and practice safe sex anyway. So these practitioners only serve to inflate the religion’s numbers unjustifiably, increasing the status and importance of the leaders who use the Bible to create absolutely reprehensible and inhumane campaigns against contraception and abortion even at great human cost.

If you’re still a Catholic, despite all the damage the religion does to your friends and family and fellow practitioners, and despite you not believing in all Catholicism’s tenets yourself, then you are part of the problem. It is a rare occasion when I will extend blame for religion’s ills to simple believers in the religion, but if you do not act against these travesties of justice perpetrated on your fellow human beings in your God’s name, then you are morally bankrupt.

Yes. You. Personally.

Get out. Starve the evil and unholy Catholic church of its believers. Keep believing in your God if you must, but stop supporting a corrupt human enterprise so obviously designed to increase worldwide misery while its top men live in a golden palace — a monument to greed that should offend any God that might exist even while it steals his name.

We’ll talk about that whole believing in God thing later. For now, just get the hell out of the self-evidently evil organization pretending to represent your deity. Please. For all our sakes.

Thoughts on Savita

23 thoughts on “Thoughts on Savita

  1. 1

    Over at Ophelia’s “Butterflies and Wheels” blog a Catholic apologist named jonathangray wrote:

    The truths of Christianity, and the infallibility of the Church in teaching those truths, don’t require churchmen to be morally impeccable.

    This guy admits his church’s leaders are immoral but it doesn’t matter, he’ll still believe in the church’s “infallibility”. People like this don’t care that their church’s teachings cause death and misery. He does not care! The 85 year old celibate with the funny hat has decided that abortion is bad and that’s enough for jonathangray and other Catholics like him.

  2. 2

    The woman had a heartbeat once.
    “Pro-lifers” made her die.
    They never gave her any choice
    That you can’t deny.

    The woman was alive once too,
    Deserves to be yet still
    Such suffering those evil scum
    Demand of me of me and you.

  3. 3

    Three of the Catholic bloggers on Patheos have argued that Catholic doctrine does in fact permit pregnancy termination to save the woman’s life… even though in practice, that’s not what happens. Daylight Atheism tackles that here:

    That sounds very reasonable and compassionate. So here’s my problem with it: If Catholic teaching allows for the inducement of a nonviable fetus to save a woman’s life, how come the Catholic church doesn’t know that?

    The reason I ask is that, in every case I’m aware of where the Catholic church has had the power to set law or policy, the policy they create is the same one that killed Savita: that doctors can’t do anything as long as there’s a fetal heartbeat, even if the woman is dying before their eyes.

    Also mentioned by Libby Anne here:

    Honestly, after reading about how Catholic hospitals handle women who are miscarrying, I was somewhat surprised to find that most Catholic hospitals actually do follow standard medical best practices in dealing with ectopic pregnancies, even though that involves administering a drug that directly kills the (completely nonviable) embryo. The fact remains, however, that some Catholic hospitals in the U.S. do refuse to follow best practices when it comes to ectopic pregnancies.

    Doctors and ethics boards at Catholic-influenced hospitals are dealing constantly with Catholic doctrines that allow women to suffer and die.

  4. 4

    Great post Jason.

    More people of good conscience need to take a stand against this archaic and barbaric organization. Many Catholic apologists claim that if you are not Catholic then none of this affects you, and if you are Catholic and you are offended you should leave.

    Being Canadian I’m sure you’re familiar with Micheal Coren. For those not familiar with this name, Micheal Coren is a Canadian ‘journalist’ with Sun News Media (which makes Fox News look slightly more left-wing than Pravda). Mr. Coren is a former Jew who converted to Catholicism, and has written, among other things, a book entitled “Why Catholics Are Right”. Mr. Coren’s articles are a collection of right-wing screeds in which he criticizes things like birth control and same-sex marriage. When he is criticized he typically claims that he is a victim of the intolerance and tyranny of liberals. (He actually uses the phrase “tyranny of liberals”.)

    The unconscionable circumstance surrounding Savita’s death is a good example of how you don’t have to be a willing Catholic to suffer and die at the hands of this organization. Scores of people in the third world are still being condemned to die of AIDS and starvation due to the Catholic Church’s efforts to thwart safe-sex and birth control initiatives. To this day suspected and convicted pedophiles are being sheltered within the diplomatic confined of the Vatican in order to evade justice in their home countries.

    Does this make me intolerant? In this case yes, and proudly so. When an organization is responsible for this much suffering and death, then intolerance towards it is the only reasonable stand.

  5. 5

    I think you meant either aren’t or invalid, Jason. Go fix that before someone thinks you’re saying that their reasons for disliking a religion aren’t good ones.

    The interesting thing is that if her husband had kept her home and waited it out just like the hospital did, chances are there would be charges laid against him. He’s got a good reason to sue for malpractice and I hope he does. I can understand if he doesn’t want to, but the more media coverage you can put on a hospital that lets a pregnant woman die just because they refuse to speed along a miscarriage the better.

    Those doctors took an oath just like any other doctor. They’re obligated to do everything they can to help the patient and yet they hid behind their church to deny her healthcare. I’d be asking a lot more questions such as, “Would they have done the same if the woman was Caucasian (or any other descent)?” or “Would they have done the same if the woman was related to one of them?” It will be a shame if this doesn’t get fully investigated. Sadly, it’s a Catholic country so it probably won’t.

  6. 6

    Got it, Erin, thanks! Boy do I miss having someone to pressgang into editing all my stuff. 🙂

    Sadly it seems like the doctors in Ireland took the Hypocritic Oath instead of that other one.

  7. 8

    You probably already know this, but it bears stating: the Catholic Church no longer seems to allow you to formally “defect.” I tried it very formally maybe 2 years ago, following all the formal procedures, and go no reply whatsoever. When I checked back on it I learned that the church had declared (I’m paraphrasing from fuzzy memory) once a Catholic soul, always a Catholic soul.

    So, for me, deciding to formally leave the church was a refreshing decision. Actually trying to carry it out was seriously unfullfilling.

  8. 10

    I hope you enjoy your health care off the backs of the American worker. All that military protection you enjoy from the U.S. helps free up your resources for it while continuing to feed the beast in the U.S., resulting in a jackboot being placed on the American worker’s throat. I really hope you enjoy it.

    If Canada really care about the plight of the American worker, it would reject all military assistance from the U.S., and any and all policies that help feed the beast. Otherwise, Canada is complicit.

  9. 12


    Did you take a wrong turn at Albuquerque?
    How in the seven levels of hell was that relevant to this post?
    The death of Savita Halappanavar was a senseless tragedy.
    Do you understand that?


    She died largely because of Catholic teachings and their influence on the government of Ireland.
    How dare you attempt to divert this post toward a topic of your choice!

    Jason rightly calls attention-once again-to the disgusting nature of the Catholic Church, and the guilt all Catholics should feel continuing to associate with such an anti-human organization.

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  10. 15

    Being in Ireland, I’ve been able to follow this pretty closely since the news broke.

    The first point that I have to make is that the hospital in which this poor woman died is not “a Catholic hospital” or “governed by a Catholic ethos”. It is a state-funded institution run on a non-denominational basis.

    The second point is that it is by no means clear to me what the sequence of events was in this awful case. In particular, I have read contradictory reports about Savita’s condition when she was admitted, when she requested an abortion, and when the septicemia that killed her reached a stage that required abortion. Until that has been cleared up by examining the doctors who treated her and the medical notes, it is wrong to make bald assertions that she was allowed to die rather than being provided an abortion.

    There is no doubt that the legal treatment of abortion in Ireland is negligent and unfair to women. That is due to political malaise and cowardice. Reform is long overdue and we deserve all the abuse we’re getting for not having dealt with the issue sooner and better. But it is wrong to say that Savita died because of “Catholic rules” that denied her an abortion. It is premature to say whether an earlier abortion would have saved her. Perhaps it would have, but I’m not going to vilify medics before the facts are better established that the contradictory accounts we have right now.

  11. 16


    As to your points 1 – 3, all I can say is that we have had multiple inconsistent claims about the sequence of events in the papers and on broadcast media. I’m not a doctor and I can’t say whether abortion is “the standard of medical care for this type of condition”: it may very well be, but the point is that here in Ireland we have had a very confusing mixture of accounts of exactly what Savita’s condition was. In particular, I have heard at least 2 different assertions about whether her condition on admission to hospital required abortion. There has been more heat than light over here. That is one reason why I prefer to wait for reliable facts to come out.

    The other related reason for wanting to stand back is that there have been some very ill-informed claims. The assertion that the hospital was operating under a Catholic ethos is one of them. We have also had assertions from the pro-Catholic side that she would have been treated better if she had been admitted to a Catholic hospital, which provoked more than a bit of derision over here. Given the lack of factuality, I believe it best to establish what exactly happened outside of polemical debate. Wouldn’t you? This is an appalling case that undoubtedly highlights Ireland’s unclear abortion laws. That is not to say that the facts are established, which is all that I am asking for. The accounts we have hear in Ireland are not at all consistent on important facts.

    Regarding your 4th point: this is unquestionably true. It is however wrong to ascribe that only to a prevailing Catholic ethos, let alone the dystopian theocratic fantasies that I have seen in a few places. The fact is that the Catholic Church has lost most of its political clout and there is pretty strong public support for clarifying and modernising abortion laws. That it hasn’t happened is due mostly to politcal inertia and cowardice, not crozier-wielding bishops and nuns patrolling hospital corridors.

  12. 17

    #17 amadan

    Galway Hospital, where she died, is a university hospital. And from what I understand, one of the professors at the hospital, an Eamon O’Dwyer, recently organized a conference in dublin where it was ” concluded that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother.”

    And here is a good analysis of what happened to Savita, based on the available information:

  13. 18

    I was just going to paste that second link Bobo linked. There’s a lot of information available, and it comes down to either they committed medical malpractice, or they committed medical malpractice in order to comply with the law of the land.

  14. 19

    it is wrong to make bald assertions that she was allowed to die rather than being provided an abortion.

    Why? There are some facts that are not disputed.

    1. Savita was having a miscarriage and her cervix was dilated.

    2. The standard of medical care for this type of condition is abortion.

    3. Savita did not get an abortion as soon as it was found out that she was miscarrying and her cervix was dilated.

    4. Ireland has extremely restrictive laws about abortion and the actual legality of performing abortions, even to save women’s lives, is not at all clear.

    It’s not a bald assertion, it’s a reasonable conclusion based on available facts. If new facts emerge that cast doubt on that version of events, then we can always re-evaluate.

    Why are YOU so hesitant to accept that being refused an abortion probably killed Savita?

  15. 20


    The discussion about Catholic hospitals is in reference to those in the States. It’s the closest comparison that Americans can relate to since their country we never a solely Catholic country.

    As for Catholicism being involved, the early articles that everyone here read included the statement that the abortion was denied because the baby had a heartbeat and Ireland is a Catholic country. In fact: “He said he and his wife were told by medical staff a termination on medical grounds was not possible as a foetal heartbeat was present and due to Ireland being a “Catholic country”.” comes from today’s (Nov 22) issue of The Irish Times. They’re still saying it.

    On my account, perhaps saying that the doctors were hiding behind their religion was a little presumptuous. Depending on what the law says they truly may not have been allowed to do anything and the “Catholic country” comment may have been uttered with derision stemming from a dislike of having their hands tied. Here, however it has mostly been interpreted as a choice using Catholicism to back that choice up.

    Whatever the case, I hope her death will lead to some positive clarification of Ireland’s abortion laws so that this will never have to happen to another woman there.

  16. 21

    Savita was denied an abortion. She was told as long as they could detect a fetal heartbeat, nothing would be done. This while septicemia-a very real and potentially deadly condition-set in. What is the secular i.e. non-religious reason for the heartbeat of a dying fetus to take precedence over the deteriorating condition of Savita?
    Catholic doctrine, which assigns more value to a fetus than a mother was at the core of this tragedy. Even if no one said it was ‘catholic country’, a dying fetus should not be more important than a dying human being.

  17. 22

    The main thing I don’t get is this; their criteria for refusing to terminate the 17-week-old fetus was that it had a “fetal heartbeat”… but according to Avicenna at A Million Gods, fetuses do not develop lungs until the 24th week. Am I the only one who is wondering why Catholic doctors (oxymoron?) think the presence of a heart is the only thing necessary to qualify as a viable lifeform?

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