The death of Savita Halappanavar — the woman who died of sepsis in Ireland after being denied her request for termination of a nonviable pregnancy — drew outrage and attention in the United States late last fall, but one crucial point was often missed. Even in America, where abortion is mostly legal, cases like Halappanavar’s are a known reality in Catholic hospitals.
Take one case detailed to medical sociologist Lori Freedman by the doctor involved. A woman 16 weeks pregnant with twins was diagnosed with a molar pregnancy, which can lead to cancer, and “didn’t want to carry the pregnancy further.” She went to the hospital with vaginal bleeding, but unluckily for her, it was a Catholic one. There, the ethics committee decided that a uterine evacuation was tantamount to abortion, because there was a slim chance one of the fetuses would survive.
According to another doctor who witnessed the situation, “The clergy who made the decision Googled molar pregnancy.”