Catholic barbarity in Europe

August 18, 2014 • 6:17 am

This is a true story from a country in Europe, a country that one would normally deem civilized.

The sequence of events is this:

1. A foreign woman (country unspecified) arrives in the European country, seeking asylum.

2.  The woman is eight weeks pregnant, and the pregnancy is due to a rape.

3. The country in question prohibits abortion except in cases when the pregnancy will result in the mother’s death. Those cases can include a mother’s potential suicide. They do not include rape, incest, or fetal deformity.

4. The pregnant woman is suicidal and wants an abortion badly. She presents herself at the hospital and requests an abortion shortly after her arrival in the European country. 

5. To approve abortion under the law in those cases, however, requires unanimous approval of a panel of several physicians.

6. The panel is convened: two psychiatrists and an obstetrician. The psychiatrists concur that an abortion is warranted by the woman’s suicidality, but the obstetrician, while agreeing with the potential suicidality, doesn’t go along because he considers the fetus viable. By this time the woman is 21-23 weeks into her pregnancy. 

7. The woman, in protest, goes on a hunger strike, intending to kill herself through starvation or dehydration.

8. Determined to have its child, the country straps the woman to a bed and forcibly feeds her through a nasogastric tube.

9. Finally, at about 25 weeks after conception, the fetus is forcibly removed from the woman by caesarian section. Reports are that it is healthy and will be given into state care.

Okay, which country has those kind of draconian abortion laws (prohibiting it even in cases of rape an incest), and not only overrules a woman’s clear suicidality, in violation of the law, but then straps her to a bed and forcibly feeds her, keeping the baby alive until she can be cut open and the fetus extracted? How many violations is that, by the way? I count three horrible  and unwanted penetrations.

It’s Ireland, of course, and the law applying here (a new and supposedly liberalized one) is heavily conditioned by the wishes of the Catholic Church. Before 2013, no abortions were allowed in Ireland under any circumstances. Irish women who wanted abortions had to travel abroad (usually to England) to get them. That, too, had been illegal until 1992, when Irish courts ruled that pregnant women could not be prevented from traveling even if authorities suspected they were off to get an abortion. Still, Irish women who were poor for such a journey were forced to stay home and bear the child.

Then came the highly publicized death of death in 2012 of  Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway. 17 weeks pregnant, Halappanavar sought an abortion because her fetus was infected and she was miscarrying; of course the mother was infected as well. The hospital refused an abortion and, on October 28, the woman died of septicemia after the dead fetus was finally removed and the woman given antibiotics—too late.

This debacle led to the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (pdf at link), supposedly remedying the problems with the Halappanavar case. But the “liberalization” consisted only of allowing abortion when the mother’s life was endangered by suicidality (not fetal infection or deformity)—suicidality caused by something like rape or incest. Rape or incest alone was not sufficient: a woman is, by law, forced to bear her rapist’s baby, even if she doesn’t want it, so long as she is not suicidal. The act also allows a woman to leave the country to obtain an abortion (something prohibited previously), but in the case of this refugee, that may have been difficult, for she would have needed a special visa to re-enter Ireland and, at any rate, it’s not clear that the woman was even informed that she had this right. Nor do we know whether she could even afford the trip.

Does the Catholic Church show any sympathy here? Don’t make me laugh. It simply piles insult on top of injury: the newest Catholic bishop of Ireland, Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, saw went public with his opinion that the woman should have been forced to stay pregnant for longer:

[Doran] said the church has always taken the view that legislation “certainly doesn’t resolve the concerns”.

“You are creating greater risks for the child by terminating pregnancy at an early stage,” he said.

He also said: “I don’t think that anybody has established the right of a mother to terminate the pregnancy because she feels that she’s at risk of suicide”.

The Bishop described the early delivery of the baby as “not without its difficulties” and “simply not a healthy option” given that the normal period of pregnancy is somewhere around 38 – 40 weeks.

He said to terminate the pregnancy at 24 weeks with a caesarean “places the child more seriously at risk”.

The Bishop questioned what assistance the State provided the woman with her psychiatric problems.

He said he has seen “nothing to suggest that there is a good reason why” the pregnancy could not have progressed to full term.

 Indeed; the good Bishop has no problems with having the woman strapped down for another 11 weeks or so, force-fed while the fetus gets older.
This whole scenario conjures up images of the Catholic Inquisition: women tied to boards and tortured. This poor woman was strapped down and intubated, forced to serve as an incubator for a fetus that nobody wants—save the Catholic Church with its twisted morality. And of course the Church had no problems with the previous law, nor any problems with the present law that won’t allow abortion if a woman harbors a deformed fetus, or one produced by rape or incest.
The Church has long been behind society’s opinions about women’s issues, and their barbarity, and lack of concern for the well-being of pregnant women at the expense of church doctrine, is palpably clear in this case.  The people of Ireland want a liberalization of Ireland’s abortion laws, and so does the European Union. Only the Church, clinging to outdated doctrine, objects.
How long can an institution continue to force a medieval mentality on a country that doesn’t want it? Apparently for many years.  But it’s time for the people of Ireland to rise up against the retrograde and sexist mentality of Catholicism. Given the power of the Church in Ireland—similar to the power of the National Rifle Association in the U.S., which overrides the will of the people by threatening legislators with defeat—action will be slow. But even the Church must eventually bow to enlightened reason. The only question is how many more women will suffer before the Irish government comes to its senses.
See an analysis of (and objection to) the woman’s treatment at Doctors for Choice Ireland

81 thoughts on “Catholic barbarity in Europe

  1. This is absolutely DISGUSTING! Pathetic – how dare they judge for others, asserting rights over a woman’s body????

  2. I am no supporter of the current Irish laws but this is a distortion of the facts of the case. She was not in fact 8 weeks pregnant – she was between 21 and 23 weeks pregnant. The time between the initial presentation and the delivery was about 3 weeks. The obstetrician did not disagree that the woman was suicidal – in fact they did but felt that the pregnancy was viable.

    At that point, given that this is a viable pregnancy, the rights of the child (under Irish law) come into play. If there really was no concern for the woman’s well-being as you have suggested, they would have forced her to continue the pregnancy to near term. Instead, they delivered the baby as soon as practicable (which, given the early stage of the pregnancy confers and considerable risk to the outcome of the child).

    The facts of the Savita case are unequivocal – it was a disgrace to the country and should never have happened. The facts as you have presented them appear to be equally unequivocal but a reading of one of the links provided (the independent) reveals that it is not really the case.

    1. There was no distortion, but you have misunderstood what I said, so I have clarified. According to the (see link), as well as the Irish Times, the woman was 8 weeks pregnant when she arrived in Ireland, which is what I meant. I’ve fixed that and added when she showed up at the hospital. In fact, the Irish Times reported that she asked for the abortion at eight weeks, which I’ve also added.

      The young woman at the centre of the latest abortion controversy first asked for a termination in early April, when she was about eight weeks’ pregnant, The Irish Times has learned.

      As for the legality of giving her a Caesarian, that was dubious, for the law states that an abortion is mandated (when the panel agrees) when there is a real risk of suicide, and when that risk can only be averted by carrying out the abortion. The law does stipulate that there is “a need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable,” but it doesn’t say that that trumps in any way the suicidality clause, nor does the law say that they can take steps to prevent suicide so that a baby can be born. In such cases any suicidal woman can simply be confined in an institution, or force-fed, until the time when the baby is born or the State can cut it out. She might well have killed herself without the abortion, even in the few weeks intervening between decision and Caesarian.

      The law does not stipulate confinement, and the “preservation of life” issue is ambiguous. I don’t see it as any kind of compromise, or mercy for the woman, to strap her to a bed, treat her as an incubator, and then cut out the fetus as early as possible. Caesarians have their dangers, too, but in this case the law was clear, especially if the obstetrician agreed with the suicidality: an abortion was mandated. Since in such cases fetuses will often be in good shape, your interpretation would mean that even if everuyone agrees she is suicidal, she can be treated as a human incubator by preventing the suicide until the baby can be removed.

      That is still barbaric–very barbaric.

    2. Actually the actual details of when exactly the woman asked for an abortion are not clear yet. The Irish Times and other outlets say that between April and July she tried to get an abortion and the process dragged on.

      However, regardless of whatever week she was in, one doctor was allowed to ride rough-shod over the advice of two psychiatrists and the wishes of his clearly distressed patient. The fact that the fetus was viable is in fact not relevant when the mother is suicidal (or her life is at risk for other reasons). So in effect, the new 2013 law is useless to women seeking to use it to obtain a termination, because they are at the mercy of doctors who may or may not feel a shred of compassion for their patient. Can there be anything more ignominious and callous than physically restraining a suicidal woman so that she will stay alive to be incubator to a fetus?

        1. You don’t actually need to make an argument for that, because it just isn’t a baby or a child until it is born.

          So, unless anyone favours saving unwanted fertilised eggs (which I consider a ridiculous position) then the question is about when, at what point, should a line be drawn in pregency.

          1. “So, unless anyone favours saving unwanted fertilised eggs (which I consider a ridiculous position) ”

            Yeah, well, welcome to the U.S.A.

  3. From the Independent in Ireland article: ‘The woman’s suicidal thoughts are understood to have been underpinned by fear of her family’s reaction.’
    Might this offer a possible clue about the religion of the family?

    1. Not to mention Irish doctors who think pregnant women can be treated like a barnyard animal. To be sure there are many Irish doctors who do not think like this, but as this case shows, it only takes one – and they get to overrule everyone else.

      1. True. What they needed to do was find another doctor to meet the requirement of three rather than cede ultimate authority to one theocrat.

    2. Do you live in remote parts and haven’t heard that news that Ireland is now a democracy and has been for some considerable time?

      Damn the cowardly electorate!!!

  4. The Catholic church used to have a vested interest in such infants, making money. So, are they still selling babies, or is the good Bishop merely toeing the party line?

  5. Re: “a country that one would normally deem civilized.”
    Historically, through the last few centuries, seen from London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Ireland was considered far from being what was deemed as “civilized”.
    On the contrary, it was seen by major writers on the progress of civilization and politicians in Europe as a backward, retrograde, culture, far from the accepted norms of civilization in England and the Continent.

    1. Yes, in much the same way that Africans and African-Americans have been deemed “uncivilized”. I’m quite familiar with historical anti-Irish writings coming from England, but I’m not aware of the same coming from other European countries. Can you share some examples?

      For what it’s worth, Ireland society has changed radically in recent years, largely for the better too. This case is horrific, but it is also part of the process of becoming “civilized” – it couldn’t have happened as it did without the progress made in the wake of the Savita case two years ago.

  6. Once again we see the result of the Catholic Church (or any other religion) getting legislative power: a sick combination of hypocrisy, misogyny, barbarity and complete lack of compassion.

    And I suppose we’re also supposed to forget about the mass grave of babies discovered recently at a place single women were made to feel the full weight of Catholic guilt for the “sin” of getting pregnant outside marriage?

    1. And just as in those cases, these laws target the most vulnerable in society. Whether you were a single mother a century ago, or a woman seeking a termination in the 21st century; the major factor determining what happened to you was money and a passport.

      If you have those two things, you can escape the absurd and cruel laws of Ireland. Absent either of those things and you become helplessly dependent on the whims of state actors who appear to have no compassion or humanity in them.

  7. Jerry,
    I know several young women who traveled to the UK while pregnant with an unwanted foetus before the new legislation. Though it was ‘illegal’ – it wasn’t readily enforced and liberal doctors even indirectly assisted with the process though legally “they were not permitted to give instruction” – there are also focus groups that circumvent the draconian law.

    The issue is with the generational gap in Ireland — the last abortion referendum, 2002 was to TIGHTEN to laws which was defeated. The previous referendum on repealing them was 1992 and Ireland was a far more theocratic and illiberal place back then.

    As a 25 year old, having lived in Chicago in my twenties, I can say that the country has changed enormously since my adolescence. The church has been decimated and its power diminished enormously. Our gay marriage referendum should pass next year and the abandonment of faith for secular life is the defining feature of the younger generation.

    This law will change too but the government is largely composed of men/women in their 60s most of whom are openly religious. Revised abortion legislation is a generation of government away, but it will happen when my generation control the country. I’m ashamed that this is the view people are getting of Ireland but in reality the church’s death grip on society is being significantly pried open, bit by bit, as we recover our dignity and control.

    1. Just to clarify, the 1992 legislation allowed for women to leave the country to obtain an abortion; before then it was one of those fuzzy grey areas which culminated in the horrendous X Case (where a suicidal 14 year old rape victim was prevented from leaving and the whole ugly mess went to court). That resulted in a referendum on the subject leading to the 13th amendment explicitly allowing women to travel. However, because some women cannot travel for various reasons, it left a number of women essentially hostages in the country.

    2. Thanks for your post.

      The ‘social activist’ part of me thinks a generation in unacceptably too long. But the ‘historian’ part of me thinks that after several hundred years of church misogyny, what your generation will accomplish is nothing short of remarkable, and you should be applauded for it. Sounds like ‘death grip’ is a very appropriate metaphor for the Church’s influence on Irish social policy.

    1. I would say that islam is slightly better because at least the are honest about being murderous thugs. With catholicism, you get the same mentality coupled with the delusion that they are kind and loving.

      1. At least those suffering from such a delusion can sometimes be persuaded to act to maintain the illusion – that is, if they pretend to be decent people, they can often be manipulated into behaving halfway decently just to maintain the facade. Which is much better than psychopathic assholes who are honest about it.

        To put it another way, sincerity of belief is NOT (IMO) a virtue if those beliefs are toxic. At the risk of Godwinning the discussion, has anyone ever doubted that Hitler was sincere?

  8. There won’t be any change in Irish law until after the next election. The current government went as far as it could without collapsing, still lost a few members who had no issue with burdening Irish people with massive debts, taking away medical cards from chronically ill but you give them an unborn fetus they suddenly find their social conscience.

    Step one is remove Article 40.3.3 from the constitution
    The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

    Step 2 Change the law to at least the European average, if not more liberal

    I honestly don’t know if we will manage to repeal the 8th amendment. The opposition will be well funded and while the catholic church has taken a pounding, it’s “secular” voice pieces are well funded and have managed to silence their critics through litigation and threats.

    Remember this new law was said to be unworkable and it doesn’t even cover fatal fetal abnormalities which means a woman has to get on the boat or plane to a different country to avail of treatment which should be available here.

    I expect a well funded campaign by youth defense and Iona “institute”, mostly funded by american dollars as you’re lunatic fringe think our lunatic fringe should be supported since isn’t Ireland a great little country anyway.

  9. When, in its opinion, the Catholic Church views a soul as being in danger, it has shown itself to be uncompromising about what it is willing to sanction with regard to suffering. And since the Church, in its own view, is the soul keeper of this knowledge of good and evil, its own survival also warrants actions otherwise considered wrong.

    Not bitter, just disgusted.

    1. There is something more than a little perverse in the argument that a conception resulting from rape or incest is a gift from God, thereby arguing that God sees nothing wrong with either and is quite happy for rapists and incestist to be his messengers.

  10. The law over Abortion is similar in Northern Ireland to that in the Republic: illegal abortion can carry a life-sentence. Legal abortions are permitted only in exception circumstances. This situation is actively sustained by both Unionists and Republicans,who united to block a modification to the Abortion Law in 2000, so is not an exclusively Catholic issue.

    Compared with Italy where abortion is practically on demand in the first trimester since 1978, the UK situation is not as liberal as might be assumed:

    The Abortion Act 1967 covers the UK mainland (England, Scotland and Wales) but not Northern Ireland. The law states that:

    abortions must be carried out in a hospital or a specialist licensed clinic
    two doctors must agree that an abortion would cause less damage to a woman’s physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy

    Many abortions in the UK will not involve mental health damage to the mother: reasons are more likely to be social. Preferring not to have more unwanted children is not the same as undergoing mental damage, though doctor’s will usually bend the law a bit in certifying that the mother is at physical or mental risk

  11. Jesus Christ. It’s like these motherfucking assholes watched Alien and thought it was a delightful model to be emulated! Seriously — it’s all there. The facehugger with its tube down the throat, the incapacitation, the violent emergence through the chest…damn, but these bastards are righteously sick.

    If the woman later shows up at the Vatican with a grenade launcher and a flamethrower, who could blame her?


    1. I feel so awful for her. Think how traumatized she is! Violated by a rapist and the state, who treated her like a criminal. The rapist is probably les traumatized by his sentence (assuming he was caught & brought to justice). I just kept thinking that if I were her u would’ve committed suicide as soon as I heard that horrible decision.

      1. And then there’s what Mark posted, “‘The woman’s suicidal thoughts are understood to have been underpinned by fear of her family’s reaction.’”

        I’d doubt she was ultimately able to keep this from them, given all the attention it got. One hopes she doesn’t go from potential suicide to honor killing victim.

  12. It is not a baby human. There is no god, and no magic skygod breaths a soul into the zygote when sperm meets egg.

    No magic skydaddy says eenie meenie miney moe 6 million times every time 2 earthlings have sex.

    This is not a special gift chosen and designed by skydaddy. Conception in humans is not magical. It works the same way it works in other mammals. Treating the zygote or embryo or fetus as more important than a living, breathing person is immoral.

  13. there is a possible similar situation her in the states. A place called Mary’s Center in Washington DC has been reported (NPR) has helping an 11 year old illegal immigrant girl who was raped and is now pregnant. As far as I can tell they are a Catholic charity and this would indicate that they would force her to keep the pregnancy. How awful for such a young girl to be forced to potentially die because of belief in an imaginary being.

        1. I wouldn’t necessarily call it an oxymoron in all cases. Many people work through churches to do charity work and actually help others. A variant on the question Christopher Hitchens asked certainly applies in this case though: “Is there any charitable action a religious charity can take that cannot be taken by a secular charity?”

          Certainly, there is also a great deal of irony in the fact that if there isn’t direct evangelizing done through these charities, there is the implicit evangelizing that occurs simply by sticking “Catholic” or “Christian” on the charity’s name and then inviting people to come see what it’s about and how wonderful God is. Naturally, when charity is being done in the name of religion, there’s no God to be found. There’s humans helping other humans; that’s it.

          1. you also make me think of how it would be if Christians refrained from mentioning their religion in charity names e.g not shouting how great they were from street corners. I was taught, as a Presbyterian Christian, that one would know what I was by my actions, nothing else. It seems that no one can know if someone is a believer only by their actions since no one can tell between one benevolent human and another.

          2. I will admit that that one-line crack of mine was possibly a bit unfair – a reaction to the (probable) situation described by clubschadenfreude. I have no doubt there are many Catholics who are charitable and there are doubtless many Catholic organisations that are genuinely charitable, more particularly in predominantly Catholic countries where catholicism is the social background. And if they don’t let dogma undermine any good they do, so much the better.

            1. Indeed, it was still funny. 🙂

              It just gave me some pause because it’s one of those areas both religious people and accomodationalists always immediately jump to. They point out “all the good religion does.” Sort of like making the excuse that a serial rapist has a soft spot for animals, saved a few kittens and gave generously to PETA, therefore rapists are good; it’s best to just call them out on it.

  14. WOW! This is truly nauseating. Hopefully the young generation will indeed change these disgusting and immoral laws when they hold the country’s reins. And though the bible is myth, I must facetiously say: Satan works in mysterious ways.

  15. Do catholics follow the bIble? Doesn’t the bible call for an eye for an eye? I think every male who prevented this woman from having an abortion and who subsequently inflicted invasive medical treatment on this woman needs to give an eye for an eye —- let them experience exactly what this woman experienced. Then, they can have an opinion.

    THe catholic church lacks empathy. THe bishop will never understand until he has to endure rape, followed by 9 months of pregnacy, strapped down, force fed and cut open. When he does this, he can have an opinion. Until then he needs to sit down and shut up.

  16. I have a real problem with terminating a fetus at 8 months. But then I read the post again and then it dawned on me. In point 2 the woman is at EIGHT WEEKS.

    W . T . F.

    In some towns the priests are not allowed to be left alone with children. The virtual civil war. The Magdelan Laundries. How much more insult does Ireland and her people need to suffer at the hand on the church.

    1. Very few doctors would terminate a child at 8 months. It would be very dangerous for the mother. I’m no birthing expert, but I have heard of women who had to birth a dead fetus because they couldn’t operate. How awful. I can hardly imagine the sheer horror of that for the woman.

          1. Thanks Diana, Merilee, & Sean.

            I shouldn’t have inserted myself in here like that–it was a long time ago, 1988. Still pretty vivid, though. At least I was making my own decisions and had support from loved ones; ’twas awful enough with those factors, so for those held under duress and given no say…well, who needs a figurative hell when they can put someone through that right here in this life?

            1. It’s also experiences such as yours that make it damned hard to take seriously the objections over late-term abortion. Realistically, what proportion of women are going to carry a baby almost to term and then decide at the last minute to abort? I mean, seriously? We’re going to condemn all those women who face such tragedy as an unviable near-term pregnancy to go through the horror of stillbirth just to prevent some nonexistent percentage from having an “elective” late-term abortion? And how many women’s lives (and health, including future reproductive health) must we sacrifice on this altar, should we ignore the mere cruelty involved?

              I’m sorry you had to go through this, but at least, as you note, you were able to do so of your own volition and with the help of family. Being forced into it really is a reenactment of Alien, and must be at least as horrific.


              1. It also helps to remember that these women are real people and sharing your story wasn’t wrong in any sense because you remind people that actual for realz women suffer through terrible things.

              2. Indeed, most women who get anywhere near term and then find out their fetus has untreatable and terminal problems are carrying very-much-wanted children, so there’s a lot of shock and grief involved. There are no good choices, only the ones that seem most practical to the woman and her physician. It’s hardly a stage for frivolity.

    1. Yes, but so long as religious groups hold undue sway over Irish policy-making, the democratic principle that should see the public’s views influence politics is subverted. It’s like Jerry’s comparison with the National Rifle Association: the lobby group can impose rules in defiance of what the majority of the voting public actually want. Ireland needs to lose that undue Catholic influence first before the increasing number of atheists can make their presence felt.

    2. Thanks for linking – the global atheist statistics captured my attention for a long time. Very interesting.

    3. I’d be a little bit circumspect about Gallup’s polls. The most recent Irish Census has over 84% of the population not only claimed to be religious but Catholic. Only about 7% (at the most generous interpretation of the data) are atheist / agnostic / no religion; although it does appear that the “nones” are the biggest group after Catholicism.

      It is perfectly true that Census figures aren’t entirely accurate either. The person filling out the census form tends to claim all household members as the same when they very often are not. And a very high percentage of those who claim to be Catholic are not actually church-goers. Certainly the younger generations appear to be very uninterested in religion. It all bodes well for Ireland following the trend set in the rest of Western Europe in the foreseeable future.

      However, it will take a very long time to see the new liberal consensus reflected in institutions like the Constitution, various laws, schools, churches etc.

  17. It’s frightening to think that, in some places, the State has the authority to force women to bear children against their will.

    1. ….and even more frightening that said state heads up a western democracy where you expect such things to be part of history, not present day events.

  18. It’s only a matter of time (and several elections) before the younger generation of Irish, who are well fed up with the Catholic church and the old politics, vote in a new set and the church will be forcibly removed from all its positions of power. When it happens it will be like a dam bursting.

    By the way, no word from the super duper, human and caring, Pope Francis? Or is he too busy scoring easy points elsewhere?

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