Is abortion ever necessary to “save the life of the mother”?


It’s dropped on a daily basis: Abortion should not be legal except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened by the pregnancy. But should it?

Politicians who do not affirm the legitimacy of abortion under these circumstances are written off as straight-up lunatics. Who could be so callous, opponents ask, as to deny life to a pregnant woman whose life is threatened by her pregnancy? The truth is, there is one massive misconception about the “life of the mother” exception: the belief that abortion is sometimes necessary to save the life of the mother.

The abortion procedure is not – ever – necessary to save the life of a mother. There are, however, maternal health risks that require a treatment that cause the unfortunate, indirect, and unintentional death of an unborn child. For instance, in life-threatening ectopic pregnancies that require removal of a Fallopian tube, the pregnancy (including the unborn child) will be removed along with the Fallopian tube. The intention in this procedure is first and foremost to save the life of the mother, and in order to do so, a physician must perform a procedure that indirectly causes the death of her unborn child.

This is not an abortion. Furthermore, a true abortion – in which the direct intention is to end the life of a human being – is not a treatment for any type of maternal health risk. Abortions never save mothers, but procedures which by their nature may indirectly lead to a child’s death sometimes save the life of the mother.

The Association of Pro-Life Physicians, whose mission is to practice pro-life medical ethics as the only legitimate means of living out the do no harm clause of the Hippocratic Oath, clarified the subject with the following statement, which can be found within its broader context here:

We find it extremely unfortunate that many pro-lifers have regarded the health of the mother to be a consideration in whether or not she should have the right to terminate the life of her pre-born baby.  Politicians who herald the title “pro-life” on the campaign trail frequently tout this health exception, as well as exceptions for rape and incest, as pragmatic compromises that will not offend political moderates and not alienate the pro-life community.  We do not consider this compromise consistent with pro-life Hippocratic principles at all.  To intentionally kill or condone the intentional killing of one innocent human being precludes one from being considered “pro-life” at all.  A murderer of one person is not any less a murderer if he allows thousands to live, nor if he saves thousands from dying!

When the life of the mother is truly threatened by her pregnancy, if both lives cannot simultaneously be saved, then saving the mother’s life must be the primary aim.  If through our careful treatment of the mother’s illness the pre-born patient inadvertently dies or is injured, this is tragic and, if unintentional, is not unethical and is consistent with the pro-life ethic.  But the intentional killing of an unborn baby by abortion is never necessary.

Most of what passes as a therapeutic, or medically-necessary abortion, is not necessary at all to save the mother’s life.  For example, if a mother has breast cancer and requires immediate chemotherapy to survive that can kill the baby, the physician will frequently recommend a therapeutic abortion.  Another example: if a mother has life-threatening seizures that can only be controlled by medication that will kill or severely deform her unborn child, the physician will frequently prescribe a therapeutic abortion.  In both of these cases, the abortion is not necessary to protect the mother’s health.  The necessary medication may injure or kill the pre-born child, but this is no justification for intentionally killing the child.  If the child is injured or dies from the medication prescribed to the mother to save her life, the injury was unintentional and, if truly medically necessary, not unethical.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who recently announced his bid to run for Texas governor as pro-life Rick Perry’s successor, was mocked and accused of “waffling” on the issue when he made the following comment:

If you’re really pro-life, you want to save every life, but that also includes the mother’s life. The life of the mother is just as precious as the life of the child.

When asked whether this meant he supported a “life of the mother” abortion exception, he said:

In a way, but you’re in a way kind of mischaracterizing the word. It’s not like an exception. What both the medical community needs to do, and the pro-life community supports, is doing everything we can to protect the life of the mother.

Pro-abortion media has labeled the language of this statement as “gobbledygook,” but it was actually an accurate summary of the pro-life position on the life of the mother. Unlike organizations such as Planned Parenthood, who have proven time and again that maternal health is not their priority, the pro-life community puts maternal health first by condoning any procedure that would save her life. The bottom line, however, is simply this: Abortion is not, and never will be, one of those procedures.

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