Where is the mother’s right to life in the pro-life argument?
On 28th October, 2012, Savita Halappanavar passed away in an Irish hospital after doctors refused to remove her “unviable” foetus, resulting in septicaemia and multiple organ failure.
Mrs Halappanavar had been the wholly unfortunate victim of a miscarriage a few days prior. The doctors informed her that, although the foetus was “unviable”, there was, in actual fact, still a heartbeat present, and it was therefore technically classified as alive. In concurrence with the strongly “pro-life” Irish law, this meant that they were unable to legally perform an abortion.
The definition of pro-life is “advocating full legal protection of embryos and foetuses (especially opposing the legalisation of induced abortions)”.
It is by no means a crime or terrible thing to believe that all life is sacred and that the preservation of life is of the utmost importance and, in all honesty, it is a belief that perhaps we all should share.
However, at what point do the medical needs of the mother outweigh the needs of the (unborn or unviable) child? Yes, the preservation of life should be the highest point of order, but surely one death is better than two. Is it up to us or God to decide which one should survive?
I am not here to argue the specifics of this tragic case. Not all of the facts are yet known, and to do so would be incredibly speculative and unmerited. However, would the logical choice not have been to save the life of the mother in the hopes that she could go on to potentially create more life?
It is no secret that the Irish abortion laws are somewhat outdated. They come from a British Parliamentary Act that was passed in the 1800s. Let us not forget, this was also a time when homosexuality was still outlawed and women had almost no rights. Perhaps the time has come to update the law in keeping with the timely and relevant legal knowledge of the day.
The fact of the matter simply comes down to this: do laws that were passed almost 150 years ago still hold weight in this day and age, given the medical knowledge that we are now blessed with and the stoic stance at which the majority of the public is now at? While no one wishes to place more value upon one life than another, the reality is that there will be cases of pregnancy in which physical and even social factors would skew greatly in favour of the foetus’ termination and, in cases, the mother’s wellbeing.
From a medical standpoint, is it ethically right to allow the birth of a baby whose quality of life once born is severely compromised, whether this is through abnormalities from conception or external factors? Some embryos present with conditions and issues that would hinder any chance of a comfortable, fulfilling existence once born. In the majority of cases, such a child would face a shortened life and one that would, without fail, end in a chapter of pain and suffering. If this can be determined before birth, surely a termination in many cases can be seen as solely a compassionate one.
Another, albeit controversial, argument would pertain to the nature of the parents. Is parenthood a “god-given” right, something to which everyone is entitled regardless, or is there sense in limiting an ill-equipped person, whether a drug abuser or someone with a record of violence, from procreating? Where, then, would the line be drawn?
Though pro-lifers would argue that we have adoption agencies and social services for this very purpose, they have been proven to be ill-equipped to handle the workload they currently have. Is it fair to condemn a child to such an unstable path? The strongest case in support of this view would be that of the appalling treatment and eventual death of Baby P, failed by both his parents and the social care system.
Ultimately, in cases where the pregnant woman is not equipped to sustain the pregnancy or the child, be this through physical issues, mental health problems or simply a lack of preparedness or responsibility for the role ahead, it is only fair not to make her suffer through a pregnancy that would only cause anguish. At some point, practicality would have to dictate that her needs come first.
Pulling this back to a case such as that afflicting Mrs Halappanavar, the medical staff must have had some awareness of the dangers that would arise were they not to remove the foetus from her body. However, because of either legal tripwires or present morally questionable beliefs, they were unable to do so. A woman lost her life because of it.
Again, we do not yet know all of the facts of the case so this is a purely hypothetical circumstance. Our aim is to raise the argument of at what point does the mother’s right to life get brought up in the pro-life belief system?
To return to our initial idea, surely the most ethically poignant idea would be to allow the “right-to-life” to the parent, allowing her to continue in a life that is already established and giving the chance to fulfil a role that would see her further reproduce and develop into the most suitable parent possible. It is upon this that the future sustainability of the culture, and humankind, relies.