Sunday, October 19, 2008

Search: Abortion for the life of the mother

First of all, they're exceedingly rare. As far back as 1960, 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."

I 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 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.

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.

Let me reiterate the most important points:

  • Between 1967 and 1990, only 0.004% of abortions performed in the UK were done with the intent of preserving the mother's life. (I've been unable to find comparable statistics in the U.S., where the only data is on self-reported maternal health concerns among aborting women.)

  • Not a single one of the deaths in Dublin National Maternity Hospital between 1970 and 1979 could have been avoided by abortion. (I've been unable to find a comparable study in the U.S.)

  • Ireland, where abortion is illegal, 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. (This can be attributed to the increased risk of complications in subsequent pregnancies caused by abortions.)

    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" (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.

    An example is breast cancer. Doctors would give the women a choice between having the baby killed, and delaying chemo until after birth, risking their own lives. But it turns out that there are treatment regimens that can be administered during pregnancy.

    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.

    Yes, there are sometimes situations in which a mother develops health problems that require the pregnancy to be terminated. My friend had to have three pregnancies terminated in the third trimester due to life-threatening problems. These terminated pregnancies are named Daniel, Becky, and Mary; they were delivered by emergency c-section.

    Do these rare, tragic cases mean that we need a "life of the mother" exception in abortion bans? I think not. Let the doctor take whatever measures he thinks necessary to preserve the mother's life, and allow such cases to simply go unprosecuted, as they were before legalization, and just as doctors are not prosecuted in those rare cases where they kill one conjoined twin to allow the other to survive.

    See also “What if the Mother’s Life is in Danger?”

    And let's stop letting the abortion lobby use what's likely 0.004% of abortions as an excuse for the other 99.996%.

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    Hamster said...

    I think that in most cases there does not need to be a choice between child and mother.
    However, it would be presumptuous to say that the situation would NEVER arise.
    If it did, I don't think anyone who believes in the right to life would choose to sacrifice the mother over the child.
    The health of the mother takes precedence, In my opinion.

    Margaret said...

    I have known two women, co-workers, who were pregnant and then diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast Cancer frequently reacts to the hormones in a woman's body and each of these women had such receptors. One elected to abort to allow herself aggressive treatment so she could survive her breast cancer and be alive for her other child and husband. The other elected not to abort but to bring her fetus to term.
    Sadly, both women died. but cancer in a mother is certainly a reason to consider abortion as a treatment to save the life of the mother.

    Christina Dunigan said...

    Margaret, I'm sorry to hear about the co-workers' deaths. However, there is no evidence that abortion increases the mother's long-term survival. The current evidence is that it reduces long-term survival. When you already have an aggressive cancer, doing something that increases the risk of mortality isn't going to help. And it will not help the mother emotionally.

    Doctors need to stay up to date on research and inform their patients based on current information, not based on what reduces the odds of being sued.

    Unknown said...

    Um, there are some conditions related to pregnancy that require the removal of the fetus.

    Preeclampsia and uterine rupture are among them.

    You also neglect to mention ectopic pregnancy.

    Your site is informative but please get the facts on this.

    CloseTheDoor said...

    Good evening,

    my name is Sara and I am an Italian woman. I am following the debate following the Supreme Court decision with curiosity, so I found your blog.

    I anticipate my position to clear the field of misunderstandings: I consider abortion to be an ethical dilemma, but as a woman I am sincerely concerned because the vast majority of Italian gynaecologists are against the right to abortion and in at least one case have caused the death of a young mother.

    I'm talking about the case of Valentina Milluzzo, which is very similar to that of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and that of Andrea Prudente in Malta: Valentina was 19 weeks pregnant with twins and had a miscarriage, but it was too slow.
    After several days Valentina started to have a body temperature of 34 degrees and told her parents that she felt like she was dying. The hospital gynaecologist told her parents and her sister at least twice that he could not intervene because the twins' hearts were still beating. She died a few hours after.
    All the gynaecologists at the hospital are being prosecuted for not intervening in time.

    One sentence you write strikes me the most: apparently Ireland has the lowest rates in Europe for maternal mortality.
    It is a sentence I also read about Malta, and it makes me suspect the following: the rate is so low because Irish and Maltese women, knowing the law in force, resolve critical situations themselves with some do-it-yourself 'kit' or by paying for a trip abroad.

    I understand the scruples of conscience of those who have to materially perform the abortion, however the 'radicalisation' of pro-life positions concretely endangers the lives of women who had a miscarriage but did not even want to have an abortion.