A few days ago our Emily Esfahani Smith suggested that a woman in Ireland had died because doctors didn't kill her unborn child. She went on to say she agreed with a Wall Street Journal editorial that proposed that the GOP "jettison social conservatives."
The story of Savita Halappanavar's tragic death has received more media coverage than any abortion-related death I can recall. In fact, while pro-life sites somewhat routinely categorize the deaths and injuries of women in America who undergo abortion, they receive almost no mainstream media coverage. It's certainly understandable that pro-choice activists would use Halappanavar's death to change laws that protect unborn children in Ireland. That the media has jumped on board to campaign with the activists strikes me as unseemly -- particularly since we don't actually know the circumstances of the death yet. While being completely open to the possibility that killing her unborn child would have saved Halappanavar's life, is there evidence to support this conclusion?
It reminds me of stories earlier this year about another woman's tragic death. Shamia Al Awadhi was found brutally murdered in her home. A note near her body indicated that it was an anti-Arab hate crime. The media was pretty sure it was a hate crime and that meme dramatically dominated the coverage. "Hijabs and Hoodies" and other protest movements sprung up globally as communities expressed outrage over her tragic death.
To make a long story short, this week we learned that Al Awadhi's husband was charged with her murder.
Now we have another tragic death of a woman and protest movements arising to bring justice. The media are behaving as if they're certain about the circumstances of her death and what the medical treatment of her situation should have been.
A casual trip around the internet will yield plenty of stories with headlines and ledes of "woman dies because she was denied an abortion." The Times of India went with "Ireland murders pregnant Indian dentist." Those stories tend to place blame on the Roman Catholic Church even though Catholic teaching permits ending a pregnancy via induction to save a mother's health.
Over at my media analysis blog GetReligion, I wrote:
One medical professional wrote to us that "Most journalists don't 'get religion' any more than they 'get medical science.' ... What really bothers me about the story is that it recklessly thrusts upon an uneducated public an unproven and questionable assertion that this woman would have lived if she had been allowed to have an abortion. The more detailed stories that I have read indicate that she died of septicemia AND E.coli ESBL. This provides valid reason to question whether this woman would have survived, regardless of the treatment. This ESBL-producing E.coli strain is harder to treat than MRSA. The E.coli ESBL infection may not have even been related to the miscarriage initially, but she's been cremated, so there is no way to do further investigation. The E.coli ESBL could have been the cause of the miscarriage in the first place. Again, my point is that there is no conclusive evidence that earlier termination of the pregnancy would have saved this woman. She had a terribly antibiotic resistant infection that caused septicemia. It is very possible that her death could have been hastened (and actually was) by the medical removal (D & C) of the baby, dead or alive. If there was infection in the uterus, once the blood vessels were ruptured the infection quickly became systemic, and antibiotics were of no help."
I do wonder whether the media has any responsibility to wait for the facts of the medical investigation before concluding the cause of death. To be fair, this Irish Times report says one government health official (who said "I am privy to certain facts but I am not privileged to share them") that "often in a case where miscarriage was inevitable, it was the view of the medical experts that allowing that to occur naturally represented the safest option." Still, this viewpoint isn't exactly being highlighted in the above stories.
Do facts even matter any more? Why wait for information when we can rush to judge the cause and meaning of a woman's death for our own political gains?