It’s time to strip Catholic hospitals of their right to provide maternity care

05/06/2013 § Leave a comment

Marge Berer, Editor, Reproductive Health Matters

The announcement regarding the decision to allow Beatriz in El Salvador to have a “premature delivery” requires a continuing response from the abortion rights community.

The article states: “The medical team at the Maternity Hospital is ready to act immediately at the slightest sign of danger.” In fact, the opposite is true. Danger signs have existed in Beatriz’s pregnancy from the beginning. Instead of acting on them and terminating the pregnancy as soon as it was known that the embryo had no chance of survival, if not sooner, the medical team of the hospital has put her life at constant risk. Like Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, Beatriz’s condition could  suddenly worsen, e.g. her blood pressure could go out of control, her kidneys could fail, and she could die in a short space of time.

No one in the hospital or the Ministry of Health of El Salvador should be allowed to get away with the falsehood that her care is in good hands. Her care is in the hands of people who have been prepared to let her die for the sake of a fetus with no brain, but with only a heartbeat and without the chance of a life.

She will be “allowed” to have a caesarean section, described as a “premature delivery”. Why a c-section, why surgery? Is this justified because it is the safest possible form of delivery for her? Can someone explain this please? What is wrong with either a dilatation & evacuation, or induction with mifepristone and misoprostol? Both surely carry fewer risks?

Please recall the case of “Aurora” in Costa Rica, at the end of 2012, who was also carrying a fetus with no chance of life, a fetus whose heartbeat stopped only at 29 weeks of pregnancy. She also was then given a c-section. Some of us asked why that was necessary at the time, but no one raised the question or challenged it publicly. It is time to ask publicly: why is a c-section the delivery method of choice? Is it only because it is the only form of termination of the pregnancy that they think cannot be labelled abortion?

Are these two cases representative of a new “Catholic health policy” for pregnant women with an emergency obstetric situation involving a non-viable embryo/fetus – that they are imprisoned in a hospital, in some cases  for months,  denied a life-preserving abortion until the fetal heartbeat stops, and then delivered of the dead baby by the highest risk procedure possible for the woman, a caesarean section?

Beatriz’s treatment should be considered cruel and degrading treatment and a violation of the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. The protest here is not finished; it is only beginning because cases like Beatriz’s and Aurora’s are only just coming to light through the vigilance and action of human rights and women’s abortion rights groups. What we need to challenge is not just the abortion laws of El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ireland and other countries where even abortion to save the life of the woman is not permitted. We need to challenge the Ministers of Health, parliaments, Supreme Courts, hospitals and clinicians in every country whose clinical decisions and actions are subservient to the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church’s “health policy” on abortion, which blatantly and cruelly disregards the right to life and health of pregnant women. Whose bottom line is that even with a non-viable embryo/fetus with a heartbeat but no chance of survival a termination is never permissible.

RHM has just published my paper analysing Catholic health policy on emergency obstetric care involving termination of pregnancy which discusses all the cases I could find that have come to light up to several months ago:

Termination of pregnancy as emergency obstetric care: the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women: An analysis of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and similar cases

It seems this is not an uncommon problem. If health professionals systematically put the lives of their patients at risk for any other ideological non-clinically justifiable reason, it would not be tolerated. I believe any Catholic health professionals and/or hospitals refusing to terminate a pregnancy as emergency obstetric care should be stripped of their right to provide maternity services. In some countries these are the main or only existing maternity services. Even so, governments should refuse to fund these services, and either replace them with non-religious services or require that non-religious staff are available at all times specifically to take charge of such cases to prevent unnecessary deaths. At issue is whether a woman’s life comes first or not at all.

Previously posted in RH Reality Check – June 1st 2013

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