The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said “a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life” in a statement responding to widespread criticisms and misinterpretations of the Church’s teaching on abortion following the recent death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.
The news media whipped up a frenzy of anti-Catholic protests after reports surfaced that medical staff at University Hospital Galway refused to give 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar an abortion because Ireland is a “Catholic country.” Pro-abortion activists have suggested that an abortion would have saved Halappanavar’s life. An investigation is currently underway as to the cause of Halappanavar’s death and the decisions regarding her treatment, but Irish Health Minister James Reilly has stated there is no evidence that a Catholic ethos prevented responsible treatment.
“The death of Mrs. Savita Halappanavar and her unborn child in University Hospital Galway on the 28 October last was a devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family,” said the bishops. “It has stunned our country. We share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances and we express our sympathy to the family of Mrs. Halappanavar and all those affected by these events.”
The bishops stated that they wanted to “reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching” in light of the widespread public discussion following the tragic deaths of Halappanavar and her unborn baby:
– The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.
– Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.
– Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.
– Some would claim that the unborn baby is less human or less deserving of life. Advances in genetics and technology make it clear that at fertilization a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence. From that moment onwards each of us did not grow and develop into a human being, but grew and developed as a human being.
The bishops concluded with saying, “With many other religious and ethical traditions we believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice. This helps to ensure that women and babies receive the highest standard of care and protection during pregnancy.”
“Indeed, international statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth,” they said. “This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland.”