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Why are the media ignoring the abortion scandal that almost killed a woman?

This week, Gript broke a shocking story around abortion in Ireland that showed that women’s lives are being put in danger by the blind and wilful determination not to provide ultrasounds when women seek abortion. 

Presenting an alarming and disturbing case where a woman could have died, medical experts working in Limerick Maternity Hospital said that the practice of not offering ultrasounds before prescribing abortion pills could lead to maternal deaths.

They were very clear on this point – writing that currently it “was not routine” to offer such scans before abortion, and that because the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy could be masked by the symptoms expected after taking the abortion pill, this could result in women dying.

In 2018, when Carol Nolan TD sought an amendment to the abortion legislation which would have ensured that ultrasounds be offered to women to date pregnancy and rule out  the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, then Minister for Health Simon Harris refused her proposal saying it would be “a terrible use of what people rightly point out is a scarce resource in the health service”.

I think the woman in Limerick Hospital who could have lost her life – after suffering severe blood loss and needing immediate resuscitation – might disagree. But will Harris, or the current Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, be held to account for this appalling case?

The establishment media in Ireland is certainly interested in the issue of abortion, and devotes considerable effort to investigating and commenting on any suggestion that, despite our soaring abortion rates, our laws should be liberalised further.

Yet the same media – including the public service broadcaster, RTÉ – seem curiously disinterested in a shocking case where a woman almost died because of the policy of not providing an ultrasound to women seeking abortion, which lead to the symptoms of a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy rupture being masked.

That’s extraordinary, isn’t it? Women’s lives are being endangered by the state’s policy on abortion, but the national broadcaster and the national newspapers are steadfastly ignoring this explosive story.

If this was a case where a woman had almost died because she was refused an abortion, this would, of course, be headline news, endlessly amplified by commentary demanding change to Ireland’s laws.

The media was eager to cover claims that Savita Halappanavar died because of the 8th amendment, for example, despite the fact that three separate inquiries found that her death had been caused by medical negligence, and that the hospital had missed 13 opportunities to recognise the infection or intervene to save her life.

Now we have constant reporting around the imaginary need to criminalise people praying at abortion centres – while journalists work to try to set up pro-life volunteers who seek to help women with unexpected pregnancies.

But when medical experts reveal that our policies around abortion have led to a woman being brought to the hospital in an ambulance – bleeding, in extreme medical distress, and requiring life-saving intervention – the media is staying conveniently tight-lipped.

A search of the RTÉ News website this morning produced a report from two days ago on an expected US Supreme Court abortion ruling, but nothing on the Limerick case.

As ever, we’re seeing what could be described as a wall of silence. Its not the first time, of course, that this has happened. Women’s lives don’t seem that important to Ireland’s news journalists when the story might interfere with their entirely positive spin in support of legalised abortion.

The Case

The medical experts – working in Obstetrics and Gynaecology –  who wrote up the case in the March edition of the Journal of the Irish Medical Organisation, said that it provided insights into “a serious and life-threatening event ie maternal collapse due to a ruptured EP [ectopic pregnancy] after a termination of pregnancy.”

A woman had been prescribed abortion pills, but – as is routine practice – the GP had not performed an ultrasound, and the fact that her unborn baby was lodged in her fallopian tube, and not her womb, was therefore missed.

This is called an ectopic pregnancy and it is extremely dangerous, because, as the baby grows, the tube can rupture leading to massive bleeding, organ failure, shock, and death. In fact, undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy is still a leading cause of death in pregnant women.

Identifying the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy – abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding – is key to diagnosis and life-saving intervention. But if a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy has taken abortion pills prescribed by her GP, and no ultrasound has been performed, then the symptoms of the rupturing tube can be mistaken at first for the symptoms of the abortion pill.

That’s what happened to the woman who was brought by ambulance to University Maternity Hospital Limerick suffering severe pain and in hypovolemic shock – an emergency condition in which severe blood or other fluid loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body, which can cause many organs to stop working.

She was gravely ill, and in a life-threatening situation, requiring “immediate resuscitation” before having her ruptured fallopian tube removed.

In other words, this woman almost died. She has taken abortion pills under care of her GP two weeks previously, but since no ultrasound had been performed, the fact that her unborn child was not in her womb, but in the fallopian tube, was an unknown complication.

And when the symptoms of a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy rupture began – the pain, the bleeding – they were believed to be symptoms of taking the prescribed abortion pills.

The doctors noted that offering an ultrasound to check against ectopic pregnancy was “not routine” when a woman sought abortion pills – and warned that this could result in masking symptoms and signs of ectopic pregnancy in patients having an abortion, and could lead to death due to misdiagnosis and the overlap of symptoms of ectopic pregnancy and abortion.

Their statement should act as a loud, ringing alarm bell to the Minister for Health regarding abortion provision and how it is endangering women’s lives. But it will likely be ignored, just as the Baby Christopher case was, just as the soaring abortion rates are.


The Government refused amendment on ultrasound

That’s because the government – and the NGOs whom they bow to on this and many other issues – refused to include an ultrasound provision when abortion legislation was being finalised because they didn’t want abortion-minded women to be aware of the humanity of their unborn child.

In 2018, when pro-life TDs asked for an entirely sensible amendment, proposed by Carol Nolan TD, to the legislation which would ensure ultrasounds to be offered to women precisely so that their pregnancy could be dated and the risk of an ectopic pregnancy ruled out, they were shouted down.

As noted above, then Health Minister, Simon Harris, in his usual snide fashion, accused them of denying women ‘choice’ and said that to “subject”  every woman to an ultrasound would be “a terrible use” of “a scarce resource in the health service”.

During the debate, Kate O’Connell, then a Fine Gael TD, in a display of histrionics typical of her contributions on this issue, said the “amendment in its essence is designed to inflict pain and to attempt to impose some sort of guilt”. Louise O’Reilly of Sinn Féin, whose conduct to Carol Nolan throughout these debates was frankly deplorable, came out with some blather about shaming, while the current Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, indulged in dark utterances about controlling women.

Therefore, the advice of Doctors for Life and of pro-life nurses and midwives – who warned that ectopic pregnancies would be missed, and that women’s lives could be endangered – was roundly ignored.

As those medical experts said this week, it was a political, not a medical decision not to provide ultrasounds before prescribing abortion pills. And that decision has led to at least one case where a woman, in pain and shock, nearly bled to death in a Limerick hospital.

I say at least, because the HSE says 1 in every 80 pregnancies is ectopic. There were 8,156 abortions in 2022. Were 100 of those involving ectopic pregnancies? Have other women also almost lost their lives? Is data being gathered on what’s happening to women under this abortion regime? If not, why not?

The Limerick case has been written up in a leading Irish medical journal. RTÉ should be launching an investigation or hauling the Minister onto Prime Time to demand answers and urge policy change. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen.

But at least in the changing media landscape, the truth is no longer able to be completely concealed.


This article was first published on Gript and is printed here with permission 


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