Ireland, Beware the 'Suicide' Exemption
The death in an Irish hospital of Savita Halappanavar in October has galvanized pro-abortion activists in Ireland and around the world. Their goal is to force Ireland, one of the few places in the Western world where abortion is illegal, to show its modernity by signing on to the culture of death.
The fact that Savita's death -- her first name has already become iconic -- had nothing to do with Ireland's abortion laws does not deter the activists. The international media carry their water. Their ruthless exploitation of this tragedy has forced the always insecure Irish political class to reconsider their abortion laws.
Having spent considerable time in Galway, the city where Savita died, I have seen just how overwhelmed Irish pro-life forces are by the powers arrayed against them. The pro-lifers are fighting back, but, under international pressure, the politicians are already weighing "reforms." Among them is that suicide be considered a legitimate ground for abortions.
Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny, among others, appears to have endorsed that position. But before he and his colleagues proceed any farther, I would suggest they pay heed to what can happen when a government allows a mental health exemption. In Kansas, we have seen the resulting carnage up close.
The state's most efficient abortionist, Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, was regrettably murdered in 2009 before justice could catch up with him. He had boasted on his website of having "more experience in late abortion services with fetuses over 24 weeks than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, more than 60,000 since 1973." He had also claimed, with some accuracy, that he was "the outpatient abortion provider of the last resort in the United States, the Western Hemisphere and Australia."
To thwart Tiller, the state legislature passed a new law in 1997 that allowed for a late-term abortion on a viable baby only "to preserve the life of the pregnant women" or to prevent her from suffering "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Although these exemptions were required by Roe v. Wade, pro-life groups accepted them because they knew that in no known circumstances does a late-term abortion spare a woman "substantial and irreversible" physical or mental impairment, let alone her life.
For the wily Tiller and his allies, this legislation was a mere bump in the road. He poured millions into the coffers of the state's Democrats and moderate Republicans to assure that the law was not enforced. And for the next twelve years, Kansas, the reddest of red states, improbably remained the world's late-term abortion capital.
In 2006, Tiller and his political patroness, then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius, used his money and her muscle to defeat the one person who stood in their way, Republican Attorney General Phill Kline. Before leaving office, however, Kline filed 30 counts against Tiller for performing illegal late-term abortions. In other words, Tiller stood accused of taking the lives of fifteen fully viable unborn babies whose mothers were equally healthy, in utter disregard of Kansas law.
Predictably, the media chose not to notice, and Tiller continued as always. In fact, while Kline's Democrat successor was alleged to be reviewing these charges, Sebelius honored Tiller and his staff at an elegant but extremely discreet soirée at Cedar Crest, the governor's mansion. The photos are priceless.
Before leaving office, Kline had also contracted with the impeccably credentialed, Harvard-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Paul McHugh, to review the Tiller files and see if they honored Kansas law from a psychiatric perspective, since very nearly all the files claimed a mental health exemption.
In a taped interview, the gentle, grandfatherly psychiatrist dispassionately showed just what a sham the whole Tiller enterprise was. When asked whether he had seen any one patient file that justified a late-term abortion on the basis of major or irreversible psychiatric damage, McHugh unequivocally responded, "I saw no patient file that justified abortion on that basis."
What McHugh did see were insubstantial, poorly documented evaluations of disheartened young women whose stated reasons for wanting an abortion were as trivial as hoping to see a rock concert or missing a prom. One 15-year-old girl, in fact, cited as her reason for needing a late-term abortion, "Horses are my life and having kids would mess that up for barrel racing." McHugh was confident too that "100 percent" of his fellow psychiatrists would agree that none of these cases showed any sign of irreversible damage.
As to the "single episode, major depression," and "adjustment disorder" that Tiller claimed for his patients in their files, McHugh could find no evidence of either. McHugh insisted that a serious biographical history should have been performed on every young woman, especially "if you are going to take a life on the basis of a psychiatric exam."
"I had to ask myself," said McHugh of Tiller's clinic, "is any person ever found to be not appropriate on psychological grounds for an abortion?"
McHugh was particulalry eloquent on the question of suicide. His comments begin at about the 4:30 mark of the video interview. Said McHugh:
Being pregnant and being the mother of a child up to about age one actually reduces the suicide risk of women by three to eight fold. Not many people know that even though it is substantiated in the medical literature. We probably have to accept the idea that nature does protect us. ... Something out of nature alters the attitude of these women even when they are distressed about the meaning of their life and the meaning of the life they carry has for them.
If Enda Kenny and his colleagues think that Ireland is immune to the kind of media-fueled corruption that turned Kansas into an abattoir, they deceive themselves. Big money goes a long way in small places.