Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion should “continue to be cherished and strengthened”, according to the Catholic bishops.
As an investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar was announced by the HSE and the Dáil prepared to vote on an abortion motion, the Irish Bishops’ Conference said it “wished to reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching”.
It comes as the Halappanavar family called for a public inquiry into the pregnant 31-year-old’s death.
The bishops described her death as “a devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family” and expressed sympathy for “the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances”.
Savita’s husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has claimed his wife, a patient in the University Hospital Galway between Oct 21 and 28, repeatedly requested a termination but was refused on the grounds Ireland was “a Catholic country” and a foetal heartbeat was present.
Yesterday, the bishops said the Church had “never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother” but “by virtue of their common humanity a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life”. In a statement, they said they “believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice” and “this is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland”.
The statement comes ahead of tomorrow’s vote on a Dáil motion tabled by Sinn Féin to legislate for the 1992 X case Supreme Court ruling that abortion should be allowed when the life of a mother is at risk.
Government parties spent yesterday deciding a counter-motion.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, speaking in Brussels, said his party’s TDs would vote with the Government.
Fine Gael said it could not comment on whether it would allow TDs a free vote on the issue and Labour said it was unlikely to do so.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on health, Billy Kelleher, said the HSE inquiry “should be fully independent” so it would have the public’s confidence.
The inquiry team, which has three members from the Galway hospital, is led by Sabaratnam Arulkumaran — an expert in obstetrics who is also an expert in obstetric litigation. It will spend three days interviewing people before deciding what further investigation is needed.
Prof Arulkumaran said if the team was interviewing staff from the hospital, consultants on the panel from Galway would be excused from those proceedings.
He said the inquiry would like to establish how septicaemia was managed there.
Meanwhile, the Halappanavar family has written to Health Minister James Reilly seeking a public inquiry. RTÉ reported Gerard O’Donnell, a solicitor representing Praveen Halappanavar, sent a letter to Mr Reilly outlining why the family wants a public inquiry rather than a “private or confidential HSE inquiry”. Asked about the HSE inquiry, he reportedly said the family would prefer to wait for a public inquiry.
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