Can Abortion Preserve a Woman’s Physical Health?

At first glance, it may seem heartless for pro-lifers to oppose abortions performed in order to preserve the physical health of women. But we know that abortion is itself deadly and harmful to women, as we have seen over and over again.

We can credibly assert, based upon experience and a large body of scientific research, that abortion causes many more problems to women’s physical and mental health than it prevents. Pregnancy and childbirth is a healthy process; violently tearing a child out of the uterus is not.


The Lie of “Women’s Health”

Part of the problem is due to the fact that pro-abortion activists are not at all concerned with flagrantly unsanitary and deadly abortion mills such as Kermit Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” in Philadelphia. Nor do they fret over incompetent butchers like Bruce Steir or Brian Finkel, who repeatedly kill, maim and molest women with the full knowledge and consent of clinic staff. There have been dozens of deadly and filthy abortion clinics and more than one hundred grossly incompetent and predatory abortionists exposed since Roe v. Wade. In every single case, pro-abortionists have sided with the abortionists against the suffering women they have exploited and wounded.

As Virginia Senator Richard Saslaw said after voting against a 2011 law that improved health standards for abortion clinics, “You know and I know there isn’t but one issue involved here. It’s abortion. It isn’t women’s health.”1

This statement rings true when we consider that abortionists will interpret any loophole ― especially a “health of the mother” exception ― to mean abortion on demand. This is not difficult, since the United States Supreme Court ruled the following in Stenberg v. Carhart: “Medical treatments and procedures are often considered appropriate (or inappropriate) in light of estimated comparative health risks (and health benefits) in particular cases.… Doctors often differ in their estimation of comparative health risks and appropriate treatment.”

This decision is in line with the Court’s previous definition of “maternal health,” which included all factors of any type, including “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age.”2

It also dovetails perfectly with the World Health Organization definition of “maternal health,” which is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Such decisions allow abortionists to simply assume that abortion is safer than childbirth. Therefore, under current law, it is legally impossible to formulate a workable “health of the mother” exception for abortion. Pro-abortionists know this; they pretend to support “reasonable” laws that might limit abortions, as long as they include an exception to preserve the woman’s “health.”

Many abortionists take full advantage of the existing definition of maternal health. Third-trimester abortionist Warren Hern said in 1990:

It appears that “unwantedness” may be regarded as a major complication of pregnancy, with surgical intervention in the form of abortion as the indicated treatment…. In fact, a woman seeking an abortion is making a circumstantial self-definition of pregnancy as an illness for which she considers the appropriate treatment to be abortion.3

Some pro-abortion judges have gone to even more ridiculous extremes in their mad rush to prop up the abortion “right.” Perhaps the most absurd example was provided by Judge John F. Dooling when he overturned the Hyde Amendment, asserting that “poverty is a medical condition.”4


Such absurd rationalizations are often used to justify abortions to preserve the mother’s health. For example, Erin Andrew Conn of Elkhart, Indiana, went to court in an attempt to prevent his pregnant wife Jennifer from having an abortion. Her ACLU lawyer, Richard A. Waples, alleged the following in legal papers: “She did what she had to do to protect both her physical and emotional health.” Why was her pregnancy such a threat to her health? Court documents showed that she had the abortion because she had planned a trip to the beach and wanted to look good in her new swimsuit!5

Abortionists are much more honest when they are required to report the reasons they do abortions. Government reports compiling justifications for abortions show that those performed to preserve the woman’s health are very rare:

  • From 1996 to 2011, the states of Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah compiled data on the reasons that women obtain abortions. Of the 1.3 million aborting women surveyed, only 1.03% replied that they were having abortions to protect either their lives or physical health.
  • During the period 2002-2010, only 0.61% of 1,695,551 abortions performed in England and Wales were done to preserve the physical or mental health of the mother.6

Given that only about 1% of abortions are performed to save the life or health of the mother, it is interesting to see how abortionists abuse taxpayer funds.



Until October 1, 1977, the federal government funded abortions for the life of the mother, for rape and incest, and for the “health of the mother.” After this date, the Hyde Amendment let the government drop funding for the “health” exception, while retaining it for the other exceptions. The results were dramatic. The year before this change, the taxpayer funded 294,600 abortions, and the year after, only 2,100 ― a decrease of 99.3%!

In other words, abortionists used phony “health” reasons to obtain payment for all but a tiny percentage of federally-funded abortions before the Hyde Amendment took effect.

On the state level, Illinois provided the best example of such a huge drop in taxpayer-funded abortion. The state paid for 23,209 abortions in 1976, mostly for the “health of the mother.” After the courts upheld a law banning the use of state money for abortions unless medically necessary to save the woman’s life, the state paid for exactly 12 abortions in 1983. This means that 99.95% of all abortions performed in Illinois before the funding cutoff were done under the false pretense of preserving the woman’s health.7



Abortionists now see an unwanted pregnancy as medically, legally, and ethically equivalent to a “grave and permanent threat to the health of the mother.” For years, pro-abortionists have asserted that an unwanted pregnancy is, by definition, a threat to the woman’s health.

Sadly, population controllers have used the “mother’s health” exception as the primary wedge to spread abortion on demand all over the developing world. They begin with a demand for abortion to save the mother’s life, and then wait a short while to agitate for the “hard cases” of rape, incest and birth defects. The third step is to ask for exceptions for the mother’s physical and mental health, which as we have seen is essentially abortion on demand under the World Health Organization definition of “maternal health.” Thus, the standard “health of the mother” exception for abortion always means abortion on demand in practice. Once abortion to save the life and health of the mother has been enacted, it is a small step to “abortion on request.”

Any attorney will tell you that “hard cases make bad law,” but this principle hasn’t stopped pro-abortionists all over the world from using the classic “hard cases” to introduce first contraception and sterilization, then abortion, then infanticide and now euthanasia.

So the process always begins with good-hearted people supporting what they believe to be a measure designed to protect women’s health ― and it always ends as abortion on demand for any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy.





[1] Bill Saunders. “Virginia Activists Admit: It’s Abortion, Not Women’s Health.”, February 25, 2011.

[2] United States Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62, 71-72 (1971) and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 192 (1973).

[3] Warren H. Hern. Abortion Practice [Philadelphia: B. Lippincott Company], 1990, pages 8 and 9.

[4] “Judge Dooling, the Hyde Amendment, and the New Bill that Would Limit the Courts.” ALL about Issues, January 1980, page 5.

[5] In re Unborn Baby H., No. 84C01 8804JP185, slip opinion at 1 2 (Vigo County, Indiana Circuit Court, April 8, 1988). Also see “Woman Defies Court, Father, Aborts Child.” Washington Times, April 15, 1988.

[6] Annual Department of Health statistical reports entitled “Abortion Statistics, England and Wales.” Table 2, “Legal Abortions.” Downloaded from, June 26, 2012.

[7] Frontline Updates. “Illinois State-Paid Abortions Drop to Twelve.” National Right to Life News, August 16, 1984, page 4.

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Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.

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