In July 2011, a 32-year-old pregnant woman went to her local hospital in Kilkenny, Ireland, feeling unwell. She was 23 weeks pregnant with her first child and found to be suffering from severe pre-eclampsia. Doctors were concerned that her escalating blood pressure was putting her life at risk; she was told that unless they intervened, she may die.
She and her husband were told that "[the doctors] will do everything they can for the baby, but that [she] is the priority." She underwent an emergency Caesarean section and delivered a baby girl at 23 weeks and five days -- the cusp of viability. The baby girl was transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit, where specialists worked to keep her alive while other specialists stabilized and care for her mother.
After five weeks, Mom was discharged home well. After five months, baby went home as well, becoming the most premature baby to survive in Irish medical history. Irish obstetrical and neonatal care was celebrated in the press. Tributes were paid to the excellent care of the medical teams who intervened to save a sick mother and also did everything they could to save her baby.
Such is the standard of Irish obstetrical practice today. Doctors always intervene to save the life of the mother if she suffers a life-threatening complication of pregnancy (including sepsis) while at the same time doing everything they can to preserve the life of the baby. Such interventions are "never considered abortions," according to the former chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, even if the baby does lose his or her life as a consequence.
These interventions are permissible in Ireland today under current Irish law, which bans abortion. It is this standard of practice, coupled with one of the lowest rates of maternal mortality in the entire world -- far lower than in the United States or the United Kingdom -- that ranks Ireland as a world leader when it comes to maternal health care.
In 2011, members of Fine Gael, now Ireland's ruling party, made a pre-election promise that they would not legislate for abortion. They were subsequently elected with a landslide victory. A little over a year later, the party broke its promise by bringing forward legislation to allow for abortion where there is a risk to the woman's life, including the risk of suicide.
At the government's own public hearings on how to "clarify" the meaning of Ireland's abortion law -- as the European Court of Human Rights has requested -- every single obstetrician present testified that not a single woman has died because of our ban on abortion. Every single psychiatrist present testified that abortion is not a treatment for the condition of suicidality.
On the cold, dark, wet winter's evening of Jan. 19, without any media promotion and with little notice, an estimated 35,000 Irish people gathered in Dublin to oppose the government's proposed legislation. In American terms, this would be equivalent to 3 million people attending Friday's March for Life. The event was described as "extraordinary" and "a master class production" by the mainstream press. Reporters commented that the sheer numbers present should give the government "pause for thought" before implementing any abortion legislation.
As in America this week, the fight for the right to life in Ireland continues. This issue will not go away. Ireland does not want or need legalized abortion. What we want is for our duty of care to preserve the life of both mother and baby in pregnancy to continue, and we can do that without legislating for the intentional destruction of innocent life.
Dr. Eoghan de Faoite is a practicing physician in Dublin. He is a board member of Youth Defence and the Committee on Excellence in Maternal Healthcare. He is also medical advisor to the Life Institute.