Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Life or Health Exception Smokescreen

Sometimes people will object to protecting human life starting at fertilization on the grounds that abortion needs to be available when the mother's life is in danger, the mother's health is in danger, or the baby's health is in danger. Let's look at these in reverse order.

The Baby's Health
Many mothers have been told they need to abort the pregnancy (kill the baby) because the baby has a health problem (Down syndrome, missing a vital organ such as the brain, or even a mild health problem), is at risk for a health problem, or would be placed at risk if the mother received treatment for something like cancer.

If the baby is certain to have a health problem, does it justify taking his or her life? No. Human life is valuable not because of our abilities, but because we are made in the image of God. Humans have intrinsic worth apart from their abilities. Murder is still murder whether the victim is disabled or not. Sometimes a baby with a serious condition will be stillborn. Sometimes the baby dies within hours or weeks of birth. And other times the doctor was wrong (or perhaps he was right, but God healed the baby) and the baby is completely normal.

If the baby is simply at risk for health problems, or the baby would be placed at risk by the mother's treatment (more on this when we look at the mother's life), there is also a chance (sometimes the vast majority of the time, depending on the treatment) that the baby will be fine.

For most people, aborting because of the baby's health is about the inconvenience to the parents of having a disabled baby. How many really say, my child would be better off dead than living with the condition that the doctor believes he has or might have? Probably not many.

The Mother's Health
Allowing abortion to protect the mother's health is a smokescreen for permitting nearly all abortions, because health can be defined to include mental health, which can include stress--and what baby doesn't increase stress?

But using a narrower definition of health, abortion is still unacceptable. How can you justify killing one person to prevent possible health problems to another? You simply can't.

The Mother's Life
If a mother's life is endangered by carrying a baby to term, is abortion justified? Let's look at some examples.

1. In an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, the baby attaches outside the uterus, typically to the fallopian tubes. Without intervention, both the mother and baby will die. There is no competing interest between the mother and baby. The baby will die. The baby must be removed to save the mother's life. This is not a standard abortion procedure. Many would not consider it abortion.

2. Some mothers have been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. Many (especially in early stages of pregnancy) are told they need to abort. Why? Not because the pregnancy endangers the mother, but that the treatments could endanger the baby. So kill the baby to prevent possibly harming or killing the baby. That only makes sense to someone more concerned about liability and lawsuits than their patients.

Doctors cause two tragedies when they tell a woman if she takes a treatment, she needs to abort her baby. First, some women will kill the baby, when both mother and baby could be fine. Second, some women refuse lifesaving treatment, when both mother and baby could have been fine.

3. Eclampsia usually occurs after viability, so delivering the baby (usually by C-section) is a good option.
Christina Dunigan documents that even pro-abortion doctors, as well as other groups of gynecologists, find no need for abortion to save the mother's life:
Planned Parenthood Medical Director Mary Calderone wrote "[M]edically speaking, that is, from the point of view of diseases of the various systems, cardiac, genitourinary, and so on, it is hardly ever necessary today to consider the life of a mother as threatened by a pregnancy." Dr. Alan Guttmacher, another former leader of Planned Parenthood, said in 1967, "Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save life."

Again, quoting from the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children:
In 1992, a group of Ireland's top gynaecologists wrote: "We affirm that there are no medical circumstances justifying direct abortion, that is, no circumstances in which the life of a mother may only be saved by directly terminating the life of her unborn child." (John Bonner, Eamon O'Dwyer, David Jenkins, Kieran O'Driscoll, Julia Vaughan, 'Statement by Obstetricians', The Irish Times 1 April 1992)

When Dublin's National Maternity Hospital (where 10% of all births in Ireland occurred) investigated the 21 deaths of pregnant women there between 1970-1979, they found that not a single one of those deaths could have been avoided by abortion. (Irish Medical Journal 1982 vol. 75, pp. 304-306)

What if there were ever a situation where one life was weighed against another--where either the mother or baby could live, but not both? Such a situation does not appear to exist. Some have argued that the mother could view killing her baby as self-defense, and therefore justifiable homicide. But that isn't a debate we need to have until we find a case it could apply to.

To reiterate, treating the mother is morally acceptable, even if harm occurs to the baby as a result. And removing an ectopic baby whose life cannot be saved, in order to save the one life that can be saved (the mother's), is perfectly ethical. Once again, the SPUC says it well:
Direct abortion is the deliberate killing of an unborn child. Treatment to save the life of the mother that results in the death of the child as an expected but not intended side effect is not a direct abortion, e.g. in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. In this situation, the baby begins to develop in the woman's fallopian tube and has to be removed or the tube will rupture and cause the death of the woman. This involves the unavoidable death of the unborn baby but the aim of the operation is to save the mother not to kill the baby.
Let's not get pulled into the trap of making exceptions where we excuse the deliberate killing of the baby.


Wesley Wilson is the President of Let Her Live, a nonprofit dedicated to saving babies by showing the beauty and value of life to women considering abortion. Please learn more about the Let Her Live pro-life billboard campaign. Donations are tax deductible.

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