Is Abortion Needed to Save the Life of the Mother?

-Elizabeth Dean, D.O.

“Hard cases make bad law,” an old legal saying, describes the process by which the United States has found itself with abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

Hard cases, for the abortion controversies, include the life or health of the mother, rape, and incest.  Historically, when abortion laws began to be liberalized, protecting the life of the mother was usually included in the justification. Worldwide today, in countries where abortion is prohibited, many include the mother’s life as an exception for which abortion is permitted. In the United States as of 2012 this hard case was rare, cited 0.1% as the reason for the abortion.

Is abortion needed to save the life of the mother?

Pro-life politicians can get into trouble with the media and the public for offering the opinion that it is not necessary.  In USA Today, 2012, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-I’ll. Was quoted by reporters as saying that “advances in science and technology had eliminated any need for abortions to save the lives or health of women.”  Further, that “Health of the mother has become a tool for abortions anytime, for any reason.”

The medical professionals who were consulted countered.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued this statement:  “Abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve health.  Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event.

An alternative opinion is offered in a statement issued by the Association of Pro-Life Physicians.  “When the life of the mother is truly threatened by her pregnancy, if both lives cannot simultaneously be saved, then saving the life of the mother is 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 ethics.  But the intentional killing of an unborn baby by abortion is never necessary.”

Further support for the this position comes from a pro-choice Ob-Gyn, Dr. Alan Guttmacher who was Planned Parenthood’s president for over a decade until his death in 1974.  In his book, The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (1967), he stated, “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through the 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.”

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop also supported this position when he stated (1980) “In my thirty-six years in pediatric surgery, I have never known one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life.

We know that Rep. Walsh’s reference to the life of the mother as a “tool for abortion any time and any place” is born out by the Doe v Bolton decision (1973) which followed Roe v Wade.  The court ruled that abortion for the “health of the mother ” could not be restricted, while adopting a very broad definition of what may relate to health.  This effectively made abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy for almost any reason.  The United States is now one of 61 countries who offer abortion without restriction.  Yes, the health of the mother was a tool for abortion anytime, anyplace.

How do we know the truth about the question we are pondering?

We cannot look to the U.S. abortion data and reporting system because, unlike many other countries, it relies completely on voluntary reporting.  No federal law requires the reporting of abortion numbers, complications, or deaths.  Only two national organizations collect abortion data in the U.S.:  1). CDC, a federal government agency, and 2) a private abortion advocacy group, The Alan Guttmacher Institute.  Reporting of abortion data is completely voluntary and not all states participate.  Only 26 states require providers to report injuries and complications.  Therefore, do we have only opinions to provide us answers to our question?

We do have excellent data from Ireland, a country which has never legalized abortion.  According to a report on Maternal Mortality by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNFPA, and the World Bank (2007), Ireland is one of the safest places in the world for a mother to have a baby. Ireland has one of the lowest rates of maternal mortality in the entire world, proof that a country can protect women and children without access to abortion.

Yet, there is currently tremendous pressure being exerted in Ireland by the Labour Party and other abortion campaigners.  Abortion is being sold to the people under the guise of “maternal health,” convincing people it is needed to “save women’s lives.”  Sound familiar?

Out of this controversy came the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Health (2012), issued by over 150 medical professionals attending an international symposium on maternal health.  It states in part, “As experienced practitioners in Obstetrics and Gynecology, we affirm that direct abortion – the purposeful destruction of the unborn in the termination of pregnancy – is not medically necessary to save is life of a woman.”  This collective opinion is supported by data, Ireland’s worldwide low rate of maternal mortality.

So, is abortion needed to save the life of the mother?  The data from Ireland, the reports from experience practitioners in Ireland, the Pro-Life OB/GYN practitioners ( say no it is not necessary in saving the life of the mother, our primary aim.

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