Savita Halappanavar’s death and Catholic Church
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Don’t blame who? Or what? A rejoinder to KJ Alphons’s apologia in The Hindu for the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church sanctioned death of Savita Halappanavar through willful neglect has outraged freethinkers, humanists and humanitarians everywhere, well almost. In the US and the rest of the Anglosphere, well known atheists of the likes of P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins have expressed outrage, holding the Catholic Church and its clerics responsible. Dawkins who has been an outspoken, even politically active critic of the Catholic Church, and called for the arrest of Joseph Ratzinger on his Papal visit to the UK for his complicity in the cover up of the sexual violence by the clergy, blamed Irish Catholic bigotry for Savita’s death. Myers, one of the mildest mannered people i have known, dubbed the clergy “bloody butchers and pious toads.” Protestors gathered for candle light vigils in Ireland, UK and across Europe. In the US where this tragedy came to light during a presidential election in which the religious obscurantist Republicans lost the Catholic vote by over five percentage points, belying their hope that abortion could be used as a wedge issue to divide this Democratic leaning electoral segment, liberal Catholics were quick to condemn the law and its practice in Ireland. Catholics For Choice a progressive voice of the community that is active in opposing the increasingly restrictive trend in legislation in the US and the EU, expressed dismay and called for an amendment of Irish law.

Unfortunately there are other voices too. Some have tried to deflect institutional criticism. Others have tried obfuscating the issue and even brazening it out. Let’s give the short shrift to the dishonest. Then we will take on the artful dodgers, for there are the weightier issues.

It has been said, and I am not going to provide a link to the ramblings of these vile folk, that Savita may have been suffering from other infections and was not administered antibiotics early enough. And that there was no certainty that an abortion would have saved Savita. I would not be surprised if this claim morphs into one that argues that an earlier untreated infection caused Savita’s miscarriage and that poor medical care is to blame. And if it happened to be a doctor making such a claim I would be surprised even less. In the US the medical profession counts a large number of backward Christians among its ranks, who for the most part aren’t known for scientific rigor and frequently bamboozle the public on public forums. They would of course not dare practice their witchcraft with paying patients as malpractice liability is not a trivial matter in the US. Again I do know of a few such doctors and I have no intention of dignifying their dishonesty by providing a link here. On the contrary a condition of miscarriage at 17 weeks is likely to have involved one of more of ruptured membranes, cervical dilation and labor. In the case of Savita, infection having been detected, any of the three conditions in which it occurred, warranted termination, as this doctor explains. In the circumstances, for the doctors to have monitored fetal heartbeat rather than the condition of the mother, they must have been motivated not by concern for the mother but for Ireland’s murderous Catholic inspired abortion law. While politically motivated hacks writing for obscurantist rags across the Atlantic cannot be expected to do better, doctors who have provided spurious justification for these hacks are a disgrace to the profession.

That brings us to the artful dodgers and the article in a certain southern newspaper yesterday that prompted me to write this article. A few hours back, googling the author of this piece of apologetically shameful spin, I discovered that he has been inducted into the BJP by the current president. Indications are that he has still not quit the BJP, as some Christians have, frustrating its naïve attempts to buy respectability by casting its nets far and wide for “very serious/intelligent people” It’s not possible to talk of abortion as an issue of women’s health in India, when it is the first resort of ghoulish families trying to get rid of women before they are born. But there are still many decent families in India and Savita’s sisters deserve better. I hope the BJP has the finesse to pursue the “beti achao andolan” and the cause of medically necessitated termination as neither Savita nor her family sought to kill her child wantonly.

Ratnakar has analyzed the law in Ireland threadbare so the artful dodger’s attempt to fob off the responsibility for its laws on archaic British colonial custom is clever but won’t fool anyone. Irish lawmakers and the Taoiseach have been absolutely craven before the Catholic Church and have punted the ball on amending the law for over twenty years now. As the Irish public and doctors favor amending the law and politicians have refused to follow the people, the culprit here clearly is the Catholic Church with its vice like grip on the levers of the state. For a nation with a first world economy, Ireland remains in a wretchedly backward state of mind thanks to its Catholic obduracy. It passed a blasphemy law as recently as 2009 and has some of the strictest divorce laws in the EU. Its doctors listen not to fellow physicians but defer to medically illiterate clerics on matters of women’s health.

But then the artful dodger would quickly ask, “Where’s the Catholic Church in all this? This is only about abortion, and it’s the lawmakers who have failed.” Not so fast dear dodger! Ireland’s Catholic Church is complicit in abuses most vile that have wrenched the nation’s conscience. The Magdalene laundries case, now under investigation by the UN Committee Against Torture, involved a network of prison like work camps for women deemed rebellious, promiscuous or merely disobedient by their family or parish. From 1922 until the last laundry closed down in 1996, over 30,000 Irish women were held involuntarily in these homes by nuns and the Catholic clergy and put to work for the church. The homes came to be called laundries as at one time it is estimated over half of all the industrial laundry services in Ireland were provided by these homes, by women inmates often imprisoned for life. A tight network of local police, trades people, and the women’s extended family under the thrall of the parish, compensated for their silence, ensured that any woman who escaped these laundries was promptly apprehended and returned to the laundry. These women many of whom remain unnamed and buried in unmarked graves to this day bore the burden of the deep Catholic obsession with redemption through endless earthly penitence and suffering. When the Magdalene laundry scandal broke out it came after a decade long government commission of inquiry into the horrific conditions of sexual abuse and physical punishment of boys at schools run by a Catholic order across Ireland for several years. The publication of the Ryan Commission report prompted past students of the order from as far afield as North America and Australia from as far back as 1950 to go public with the abuse they had suffered at the hands of the clergy at these schools. The cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the US are too numerous to be discussed here. However, a strong tradition of separation of church and state, an anti-clerical sentiment and a powerful feminist and LGBT movement has ensured that the Catholic Church has had to accept responsibility and take some token action at least, even of some big fish have been spirited away to Rome by the likes of Cardinal Ratzinger. The large diverse electorate of the US has also enabled righteous Catholic politicians, like the Kennedys and Daleys to ignore their clergy and act in the interests of their constituents in large dioceses such as Boston and Chicago.

However, these are large scale instances of prolonged abuse of position, breach of trust and obfuscation at the highest levels of the Catholic Church that would be considered a crime by a civilized nation. What then do we say of a bunch of unmarried men, the clergy, enforcing their perverse notions of pain, suffering and penitence upon most vulnerable women? Until about 40 years ago doctors in Ireland acting under the influence of the Catholic Church performed a surgical procedure on pregnant women that scarred them for life, but ensured that there would be no need to perform a cesarean section. The Church decided on this course as it believed a C-Section would limit her child bearing capacity, hence interfering with the woman’s divine responsibility to bear children as long as she was fertile.

Savita Halappanavar is the victim not merely of an archaic law, but of a backward, ossified and barbaric clerical tradition that anchored in hidebound doctrine has lost the power to make morally sound decisions or even realize the error of its shameful past. The Catholic doctrine that bound the Irish doctors to deny Savita a lifesaving abortion, has in the past thought nothing of abusing vulnerable children and women and refuses to accept any culpability.

Since the artful dodger may still insist that the Catholic Church provides for an abortion for saving the life of the mother we should remind him of two shameful incidents that have occurred not in Ireland, but in the new world. Sister Margaret McBride, a trained nurse and administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, was excommunicated by the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix after she permitted an abortion in the case of woman with complications, where the medical committee concluded that there was almost a 100% chance of maternal morbidity if the pregnancy were not terminated. Worse still is the case of a nine-year old girl whose pregnancy was terminated following her rape by her step father. The Vatican endorsed the excommunication of the girl’s mother and her doctors but concluded that the step-father was blameless after his repentance! Still worse laws exist and El Salvador, where the Catholic Church has guided the government in passing a law that bans abortion in all cases and provides for criminal penalties for the doctor and the mother may yet be the worst case of religiously sanctioned violence.

But the artful dodger may still insist, to stave off transportation to Australia, that it’s not the Church at fault. But is that really so? The scholarly literature suggests that the situation in a secular nation like the US continues to e grave. A study finds that Catholic hospitals in the US routinely deny care to mothers in the throes of a life threatening pregnancy, making it necessary to transport them to a non-sectarian hospital. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has also issued a guidance that forbids abortion in all cases, but I might be willing to grant them the benefit of doubt as I have not able to access a copy of the document in question.

So what then does this have to do with the Catholic Church? Its doctrine? Its fundamentals? It is popularly said that for a Catholic, the Bible is only the fourth in order of precedence among the objects of guidance. The Pope, his tradition, his clergy stand higher. Catholic doctrine holds that the way to the City of God, which is not on this earth, is through his Church, its Pope, its Princes, and its Servants. To go by one’s own reason or even the dictates of one’s conscience is to risk taking the path of the devil. So acceptance, belief of the Trinitarian God and acts sanctioned by the Church and her clergy are the way to God. The Protestant traditions in rejecting the role of the clergy called for men to be guided by their reason and intellect and studying the Book through the languages they know rejecting acts and believing the salvation is involuntary. But that discussion is not for today. It is enough to say that Catholic doctrine accepts no division of authority between the Church and its organs and the entire earth, be it a hospital or a school or even government. Centuries of the Protestant Reformation and revolutions have rolled back Catholic authority but its goals have never been watered down, only postponed. Savita’s death was not that. It was an act of religious violence by the Catholic Church that is clear that it dominates temporal laws of the land and brooks no challenge wherever they may emerge.

(Image Courtesy – newsbharati.com)