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This is Part Two of a series of diaries exploring the issues surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old woman who died in an Irish hospital after suffering a miscarriage.  Her story has sparked heated debate about abortion laws, both in Ireland and in the U.S.  

[Part One is available here]


•    “As experienced practitioners and researchers in Obstetrics and Gynecology, we affirm that direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.

•    We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.

•    We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”

International Symposium on Maternal Health Dublin Declaration (September 2012)

In September of this year, members of the Irish Committee for Excellence in Maternal Healthcare held an educational symposium for doctors practicing obstetrics and gynecology.  The symposium, entitled “International Symposium on Maternal Health”, organized by a group of physicians and other health care providers and headed by Eamon O’Dwyer, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at NUI Galway,  was attended by about 140 medical professionals.  A panel of eight experts in obstetrics and gynaecology, mental health and molecular biology presented new research on issues surrounding maternal healthcare, with a focus on high-risk pregnancies, cancer in pregnancy, fetal anomalies, mental health and maternal mortality.

Although the symposium’s organizers had been involved in anti-abortion events before, spokesman Dr. Eoghan de Faoite said “All organizers were involved in their professional capacity and were not here to represent any pro-life position,”.  And yet, the most significant outcome of the symposium was their declaration regarding abortion and maternal health.  Dr. Faoite also stated ““It was fascinating to learn about new therapies involving the safe delivery of chemotherapy during pregnancy and the exciting field of in-utero fetal surgery. When discussing matters of pregnancy and medicine it is vital that the voices of the real experts, those that actually care for pregnant women, be heard. This Symposium puts an end to the false argument that Ireland needs abortion to treat women, and it was encouraging to hear the international speakers commend Ireland’s high standards of maternal healthcare and low rates of maternal mortality.”

Consider the impact of that statement.  If you doubt its significance, listen to what Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason had to say in response to the Declaration:

“The International Symposium on Excellence in Maternal Healthcare has affirmed what Personhood amendments have sought to establish – that there is no situation in which it is necessary to dismember and kill an innocent child.  Here in the United States, we have some of the most radical abortion laws in the world, and our women and children suffer as a result. As Youth Defence in Ireland seeks to keep Ireland abortion-free and safer for women and children, Personhood USA will never stop attempting to abolish abortion in the United States to seek the same standard of healthcare and protection for moms and babies.”

The Medical Advisor to the Life Institute, Dr Seán Ó Domhnaill welcomed the outcome of the Symposium. “The Dublin Declaration stating that abortion is not medically necessary was a statement of fact agreed by medical experts and reflected best medical practice in maternal healthcare”, he said. “This is a globally significant outcome, which shows abortion has no place in treating women and their unborn children.”

In October of 2011, the US House of Representatives passed the Protect Life Act which prohibits women from buying health insurance plans that cover abortion under the Affordable Care Act and makes it legal for hospitals to deny abortions to pregnant women with life-threatening conditions.  H.R. 358 was introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are allocated to health care plans that cover abortion, and that women are prevented from buying a private insurance plan that includes abortion coverage through a state health care exchange, even though most insurance plans currently cover abortion.  An even more controversial aspect of the bill would allow hospitals that are morally opposed to abortion, such as Catholic institutions, to do nothing for a woman who requires an emergency abortion procedure to save her life. Current law requires that hospitals give patients in life-threatening situations whatever care they need, regardless of the patient's financial situation, but the Protect Life Act would make a hospital's obligation to provide care in medical emergencies secondary to its refusal to provide abortions.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a collaborator on the film The Invisible War, which was screened at Netroots Nation this year and who introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act--the STOP Act, said she personally faced a situation in which an abortion was medically necessary:

Dr. Byron C. Calhoun FACOG, FACS, MBA is a specialist in the management of high-risk obstetrics and maternal-fetal medicine.  His curriculum-vitae reads like a Who’s Who of OB-Gyn physicians.  He is Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology in West Virginia University-Charleston, and a peer reviewer for various medical journals including the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is the original author of “Prenatal Hospice”, a concept that he helped pioneer to offer end of life care, modeled after the hospice concept, to support families receiving a prenatal diagnosis of a terminally ill fetus in utero. (More on this later).

At a congressional hearing on the Protect Life Act, Dr. Calhoun had the following to say in support of the bill:

Dear Representatives Pitts and Lipinski: I am writing in support of Sections 2(a)(6) and 2(a)(7) of H.R. 358 that provide federal legal protection of conscience regarding abortion for those who care for pregnant women….. No one in my entire 20 plus years of clinical experience has ever been denied appropriate care because of the exercise of rights of conscience in the provision of abortion. Women and babies may die in spite of our best efforts, but this is not related to abortion availability or provision

Dr. Calhoun was a presenter and author of the Declaration at the International Symposium on Maternal Health in Dublin on September 8th, along with two other maternal health specialists from the U.S. , two from Ireland, one from Kenya, one from Chile, and one from Leuven.  It is clear from his public statements that Dr. Calhoun is a pro-life physician with an international agenda.  My research on his symposium colleagues, as I have alluded to above in statements about their involvement in pro-life events, shows pro-life leanings in their backgrounds as well.  While abortion is globally recognized as an issue of religious and political influences, and much has been said about it, the aspect of medical influence on policies and practices of abortion is not a widely discussed matter.

I firmly believe that Savita’s death was directly caused by medical malpractice.  I believe that in the days ahead, the details of that malpractice will come to light; it has already been litigated in the public eye.  But we need to explore why medical malpractice occurred, other than the obvious, and the role that both Catholic and Christian fundamentalism played in their decisions.  

Originally posted to VeloVixen on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 07:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Mojo Friday, Pink Clubhouse, Abortion, Shamrock American Kossacks, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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