What About The Life Of The Mother?

/ Commentary

Whenever the issue of abortion comes up, I can guarantee you one thing; the life of the mother objection will be raised. The argument goes something like this: abortion should always be legal and easily accessible because there are times when a mother’s life is endangered by her pregnancy, and the only way to save her is to let her have an abortion. Over the years I have engaged in discussions concerning abortion, this objection continually gets raised.

When answering this life of the mother objection it is crucial we define what abortion is. Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent, preborn human being usually by dismemberment, crushing, burning, or poisoning. This intentional act of destruction is never medically required to save the life of the mother. In no case is a doctor presented with a situation where he/she says, “If I don’t go inside your uterus and intentionally end the life of your baby by tearing, and dismembering it, you’re going to die.”

USA Today featured an article back in 2004 on this subject claiming that abortion is in fact necessary to save some lives during a complicated pregnancy. While a few doctors were quoted as saying it was needed in some cases, thousands of gynaecologists and medical professionals say otherwise.

A medical symposium in Ireland, wrote the Dublin Declaration, which has received over 1,000 signatures by medical professionals affirming abortion, the intentional destruction of the preborn child, is never medically necessary.

“As experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion – the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman. We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child. We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”

Four other medical professionals write this on the issue in Public Discourse:

“There are rare circumstances in which a mother’s life is in jeopardy due to either pre-existing conditions or pregnancy complications. It is extremely rare for this to occur prior to the point of viability (currently 22 weeks after last menstrual period, 20 weeks after fertilization). After 20 weeks fertilization age, it is never necessary to intentionally kill the fetal human being in order to save a woman’s life. In cases where the mother’s life actually is in danger in the latter half of pregnancy, there is not time for an abortion, because an abortion typically is a two to three-day process. Instead, immediate delivery is needed in these situations, and can be done in a medically appropriate way (labor induction or C-section) by the woman’s own physician. We can, and do, save the life of the mother through delivery of an intact infant in a hospital where both the mother and her newborn can receive the care that they need. There is no medical reason to intentionally kill that fetal human being through an inhumane abortion procedure, e.g. dismembering a living human being capable of feeling pain or saline induction which burns off the skin, or feticide with subsequent induction.”

Former General Surgeon C. Everett Koop offers this insight into actual life of the mother cases

“If toward the end of pregnancy, complications arise that threaten the mother’s health, he will take the child by inducing labor or performing a Caesarean section. His intention is still to save the life of both the mother and the baby...The baby is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger” (Francis Beckwith, Defending Life 165 (2007)).

When a pregnant woman’s life is in danger due to a medical emergency, there is not time for an abortion. Abortions are not just quick procedures. Especially later in the pregnancy, abortions that are performed take days to complete. In a true medical emergency when the health of the mother is in some kind of jeopardy, the doctor does not and cannot perform an abortion because of time. They induce delivery or perform a c-section doing their best to save both patients— the woman and preborn child.

An example of a legitimate life of the mother case would be an ectopic pregnancy. In this rare situation, the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. When this happens, the mother will die unless the embryo is removed. Since the embryo is at such an early stage of development, there is no way to save both mother and the preborn child.

Therefore, physicians act to save the one life they know they can save. In this circumstance, and other life of the mother cases which account for less than one percent of pregnancies, the intention behind the doctor’s actions is to save both lives, and when that becomes impossible, the doctor does everything to save the one life he/she knows can be preserved. As an unintended side effect, the preborn child may die as in the ectopic pregnancy example. This was not an abortion. Remember, abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. The intention behind the doctor's actions in this cases and others like it is to save life, not destroy it.

One of the ways this particular aspect of the abortion debate becomes difficult is that these hard cases are often brought up in a deceptive way to justify all abortions for whatever reason the women wants. Proponents of abortion will bring up these difficult medical cases where an actual abortion is not even required and use that deception to argue that abortion should always be an option for women.

Trying to argue for the right to abortion for any reason by using the hard cases makes as much sense as arguing that all traffic laws should be abolished because someone somewhere might have to break one rushing someone to the hospital.

Occasionally, individuals will bring up the life of the mother case because they are genuinely concerned about it and are seeking answers. They oppose abortion for reasons of convenience and the hard cases just challenge them intellectually. With this type of person, you can communicate to them the reality that the abortion procedure does not save the mother’s life and is not medically required.

But for the most part, people that bring up the life of the mother objection just want to make the pro-life person look bad. These individuals support a women having an abortion for any reason whatsoever. The vast majority of abortions are being done for socioeconomic reasons. Yet they will proceed to bring up the rare occasions where there are serious complications during a pregnancy and try to make it appear that you do not care about women and want them to die.

We most recently saw this with the passage of the New York bill that now allows abortions to be performed up to birth. Surrounding the controversy and debate, pro-abortion politicians continually claimed that abortions are necessary and vital to save women’s lives and preserve their health. They based a state law on something that is not even true.

To address this dishonesty, you can ask pro-choice advocate this question to  reveal their true intentions: are you against abortion for reasons of convenience, which is the reason the vast majority of abortions are performed, and the hard cases just bother you?

When they affirm their devotion to the right to abortion for any reason, call out their insincerity by asking them why they bring up the hard cases just to hide their real position which is abortion for any reason. Make them defend that, and then we can address the hard cases.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

Rebekah Dyer

Rebekah Dyer

Rebekah Dyer is the former President and Vice President of Students for Life at Palomar College. She volunteers with different pro-life groups engaging people on the issue of abortion.

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