Two cases in point are the needless death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and the health issues faced by a woman known as Beatriz in El Salvador.
But what if a life-of-the-mother abortion really was necessary?
As far back as 1960, Planned Parenthood Medical Director Mary Calderone (pictured) 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."
I have searched for conditions in which the prescribed treatment is abortion, and I've not been able to find any.
This Spanish study of women with lupus during pregnancy (the problem Beatriz had) found no maternal deaths, and of the 8 patients who had "therapeutic" abortions, six of them requested the abortions themselves, and two had abortions performed because their treatment medications were presumed to have harmed the fetuses. None of them was aborted as a live-preserving measure for the mother.
The research these doctors in the UK did is worth noting. I'll bold the particularly important parts:
Between 1967 and 1990, only 151 abortions have been carried out to save the mother's life, a figure amounting to 0.004% of all abortions.Let me reiterate the most important points, which abortion enthusiasts ignore because these facts don't help their cause:
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."
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.
Ireland, a country where the unborn child is constitutionally protected, has the lowest maternal death rate in the world. The UK, where abortion is available practically on demand, has over five times Ireland's maternal death rate.
Developments in medicine mean that the 'abortion to save the mother's life' argument is becoming harder and harder to justify. It is now possible for women with heart defects to carry a baby to term with expert help and life-threatening conditions such as cancer can often be treated without harming the unborn child. Women facing difficult pregnancies have a right to the best available medical support.
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.
In fact, the successful treatment of high-risk pregnancy is measured in terms of length of gestation and fetal survival; maternal survival is expected. You start seeing maternal mortality when you look at studies of women who suffer catastrophic injuries during pregnancy. The medical literature on these cases mentions "abortion" (the medical term for a miscarriage) as an undesired effect of these injuries, not as a treatment.
Pro-life physicians note that doctors often recommend abortions for ailing patients because they fear that treatment for the mother might harm the fetus. Aborting the baby to prevent his possible injury or death makes sense from a legal standpoint, for the doctor to avoid a lawsuit, but these abortions are to protect the doctor's malpractice rates, or to avoid the possible birth of a child with a disability, not to preserve the mother's life.
Even if the woman had uterine cancer, requiring a hysterectomy, doctors would deliver the baby live first if he or she was viable. If the baby was not yet viable, the hysterectomy would indeed kill him or her, but would not be the same as performing an abortion -- which is a procedure performed with the primary intent of killing the fetus.
Do these rare, tragic cases mean that we need a "life of the mother" exception in abortion bans? Clearly not, as we've seen in Ireland for decades, and as we are seeing in El Salvador as doctors provide appropriate care to both Beatriz and her unborn child. The definition of abortion must be perhaps clarified in the law, to allow for treatment that will as an unintended and indirect side effect shorten or end the baby's life. To prevent doctors from using this loophole to Tillerize their practices (presenting all manner of social stresses as if they are acute threats to the mother) we will have to put measures in place that require a thorough and unbiased review of all such cases before action is taken if possible, and afterward if the procedure was carried out in an emergency. Given abortion advocates' history of creating rubber-stamping panels to approve "medically necessary" abortions before Roe, those review processes would have to be carefully structured to prevent abuse. Perhaps we should take steps similar to those taken by police forces in cases in which an officer uses deadly force, suspending the doctor from practice until the review is complete.
Whatever course we take, let's stop letting Big Abortion use what's likely 0.004% of abortions (and which didn't have to be carried out as direct abortions in the first place) as an excuse for the other 99.996%.