The Catholic bishops of Ireland have released a statement regarding the death of Savita Halappanavar, and it makes about as much sense as we’ve come to expect from the organization that created and maintained the Magdalene Laundries. Here you can read it in full. More prominent bloggers have already given their responses to the “moral” positioning and “medical” information contained therein, and on those fronts, I’m just nodding along with them.
The part that I want to address is this one:
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. This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland.
What a dishonest, factually bankrupt, illogical pile of horseshit.
I follow maternity care discussions, and whenever maternal mortality statistics come up, Ireland is, indeed, one of those countries with vanishingly low numbers of women dying from pregnancy-related causes. One might wonder, however, whether that reputation is well-deserved, or whether the Irish health authorities are just very gifted at cherry-picking their statistics. Indeed, this article from the Medical Independent suggests that Ireland’s maternal mortality is actually a lot higher than anyone is willing to admit.
We’ll get to that info later.
The fallacy in the bishops’ statement about Ireland having such fabulously low maternal mortality is that their system of obstetrical care does not end at Irish borders. The fact is that whatever the true rate of pregnancy-related death in the Republic of Ireland, their women are having plenty of abortions in England. This is not a population that enjoys vanishingly low maternal mortality while being compelled to bring every pregnancy to spontaneous conclusion. If we’re going to talk about the state of maternity care in Ireland, we need to acknowledge the fact that Great Britain is handling the work of resolving their unwanted or untenable pregnancies. To say that Ireland, without abortion, is a super-safe country to give birth, is to lie outright.
It gets even better when you look at the Medical Independent’s coverage, and you see that their “maternal mortality” is measured by data collected by the civil registration office, which gets its numbers from reading death certificates. Thus, only when certain keywords such as “obstetric” or “pregnancy-related” or “childbirth” are used in the cause of death, is the mortality counted in maternity statistics. This is similar to the logic of “Savita died from an infection, not from denial of termination.” Going by this method, I’m sure their maternal mortality looks very low, but it doesn’t say much about how many women are actually dying of pregnancy-related causes.
(It also occurs to me that by the same logic as “Savita died from an infection, so stop pushing your pro-abort agenda!”, we could also say, for the rare instances when a woman dies shortly after terminating a pregnancy, that it wasn’t the abortion that killed her, it was the hemorrhage.)
The Irish government makes it impossible for women to get a legal abortion in their country, then looks the other way while they make frequent use of abortion care in Great Britain. Meanwhile, they count maternal mortality by counting up the number of death certificates that mention pregnancy, which is a good way to show that they care more about their reputation as a good place to give birth than they do about actually developing a mother-friendly maternity care system. The result is that the Irish womb-control contingent lives in a world in which criminalizing abortion means it no longer happens, and a culture of forced pregnancy is actually good for women’s health. They cling to the talking point that their abortion ban makes their country a safer place for pregnant women than Great Britain, when in fact Great Britain deserves some credit for Irish women’s reproductive health.
All this is not to say that Ireland should not be proud of its maternity care system. They very well could be the safest place to give birth out of all countries that ban abortion. However, they should acknowledge that they are not caring for an abortion-free population.