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When news reporting becomes a witch hunt


HONG KONG (SE): One of the most widely published incidents involving the Catholic Church in recent days has been the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in a hospital in Galway, Ireland.

The tragic circumstances of her death seem to have been used by opportunistic media and politicians to attack the Catholic Church over its teaching on abortion, as without particular reference to the facts surrounding the death, the story has run on the assumption that her life could have been saved with an abortion, which could not take place because of the teaching of the Catholic Church.

The Guardian reported the story in this way. “Ireland’s near-total ban on abortion has come under renewed scrutiny amid an outcry over the death of a woman who was denied a termination. Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, died of blood poisoning at Galway University Hospital. She had turned up at the hospital a week earlier, but was denied a medical termination and, according to her husband, was told: ‘This is a Catholic country’.”

Journalist, Tim Stanley, points out on his blog that the story is pinned on three fundamental assumptions, that Halappanaver requested an abortion, that it would in fact have saved her life and that the hospital made a definitively Catholic decision to deny her a termination.

Stanley says that Halappanavar was quickly proclaimed a martyr to Catholic cruelty, with one commentator in The Guardian writing, “I am ashamed that Ireland’s mediaeval abortion law still stands.”

As Stanley then points out, “Who wouldn’t be, if all they read was The Guardian!”

He points out that even the journalist who wrote the story later admitted she had muddled information on key issues like whether termination was ever requested or considered a medical option by the medical staff, whether it would have saved her anyway and whether Halappanavar was fatally ill in the first place.

One microbiologist has pointed out that a more likely reason for the tragic death would be a resistant bacteria strain, rather than obstetric mishandling.

At the time, the bishops of Ireland sought to clarify Church teaching on the need for medical intervention to save the life of a mother.

The bishops said they believe Ireland’s medical guidelines contain adequate ethical provisions to allow medical staff to intervene as long as necessary steps have been taken to save both mother and unborn child.

They insisted that the Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother.

“Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby,” the bishops said in their statement.

They also pointed out that Catholic Ireland has one of the lowest rates of death in childbirth in the world, despite its mediaeval laws!

However, Stanley claims that what was truly insidious was that this ceased to be a news story at all and was adopted by the Irish Choice Network as a smear campaign against the Catholic Church.

Stanley reports, “At least three days before the story went public, Irish Choice Network was notified by email that ‘a major news story in relation to abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week,’ and that it would be followed by a pre-arranged protest.”

He concludes from this that someone at either the Irish Times or the Health Services Executive conspired to use a private tragedy to push a political agenda.

A news search on the death reveals next to nothing regarding the facts surrounding the tragedy or the medical prognosis on Halappanavar.

However, what it does reveal are naturally distraught members of her family and relatives being quoted as if their opinions were undisputable facts.

Stanley sums it up this way, “The commentary and accompanying journalism drew a straight, short line between the individual’s death and the Catholic Church—the takeaway: Catholicism kills.”

He says that this is not a bit of misunderstanding about theology, but a witch hunt.

Stanley concludes that in a series of stories vilifying the Catholic Church the same pattern has been evident, when the facts are challenged and the contradictions and falsehoods in the reporting become clear, the original accusation remains the headline while the facts may as well not exist at all.

“The silence is unnerving,” he concludes.


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