The simple answer to this question is zero. Killing the baby is never necessary to preserve the health of the mother. Should the mother or child be sick, they should be treated, and every effort should be made to save both people, mother and child. We would agree with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) that the term “abortion to save the life of the mother” is misleading terminology and one never aborts; rather, one treats both patients. For instance, prematurely delivering the baby may be an option if the mother is gravely ill.
But How Common Are Such Conditions?
In short, these conditions are so rare that they hardly make any statistical impact. Naturally, this number will vary based on country, but we can see from the testimony of doctors and researchers that these cases are exceedingly rare. Even abortionists testify that if there is a medical emergency, the course of action is to deliver the baby prematurely, because to go through the stages required by a surgical abortion (laminaria, stretching the cervix, etc.) would cause more, not less danger to the mother.
Even in 1981, former Surgeon General of the United States Dr. C. Everett Koop said, “The fact of the matter is that abortion as a necessity to save the life of the mother is so rare as to be nonexistent.”1 While saving the life of the mother is almost never the reason for abortions, there are several conditions that pose a threat to the mother’s physical and mental health which may arise during pregnancy. These are often posited as ‘necessitating’ an abortion when they do not. But as former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino has affirmed on the record:
During my time at Albany Medical Center I managed hundreds of such cases by “terminating” pregnancies to save mother’s lives. In all those cases, the number of unborn children that I had to deliberately kill was zero.
To get a handle on what doctors mean in these discussions, we must first understand what the term ‘high-risk pregnancy’ means.
What Kind of Pregnancies Are “High Risk?”
According to UCSF (University of California, San Francisco), a pro-abortion institution, around 6-8% of pregnancies are high risk.2 However, all women pregnant over the age of 35 are often automatically termed “high risk,” though it is completely safe for them to bear children. Multiple pregnancies and other circumstances which are not uncommon also make a pregnancy fall into the ‘high risk’ category. The terminology is used as a method of classification by the medical establishment, to indicate to watch and treat these mothers (and babies, one hopes) more carefully.
What’s Wrong With the Concept of “Medically Necessary?”
This is often a ruse used by the abortion industry to justify abortions of convenience.
As we explained above, we would agree with the AAPLOG that language that abortion is ever “medically necessary” is misleading. In fact, when such legislation is enacted, what do we find? Legal loopholes large enough a truck could drive through are often left open in the language, allowing abortion on demand or in cases where the definition can be predicated on all sorts of reasons not the least necessary, but in fact reasons of pure convenience. 99% of U.S. abortions are not done because of any medical necessity.
For more on how this abuse of terminology began and developed, visit Dr. Brian Clowes’ article “Shouldn’t We Permit Abortion Only to Save the Life of the Mother?”
We see examples of this abuse of terminology all the time in the rationalizations provided by those arguing in favor of abortion. As the Catholic News Agency reports, Professor Lucia A. Silecchia of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law has pointed out that “there is no requirement for a doctor to even consider whether or not there exists an alternative to abortion that could solve the medical crisis.” The language of the legal statutes clearly has been twisted to make abortion anything but a last resort, and even if it were only a last resort that would still be unacceptable.
There was a study of 27 countries in the 1990’s on the subject of reasons women give for having an abortion, published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) in the journal International Family Planning Perspectives.3 Though it is the research arm of Planned Parenthood, the AGI is generally considered reliable in much of its documented abortion research. One thing that this study by AGI demonstrates is that ‘medical necessity’ is not even considered by the vast majority of mothers who intend to abort. Although not the primary goal of the study, it is clear from the data presented that more developed countries have far fewer claims that abortion is medically necessary (Kenya with 20% claiming this as the main reason and Finland with only .6%). In fact, in the United States for instance, abortions are performed most often for reasons of convenience such as finances or relationship status, disability of the baby and so on. Often it is also essentially recourse to failed contraception, i.e. it is being used as birth control.
Be using “medical necessity” as terminology in legislative terminology, or rape or incest, this allows lawmakers to craft bills that have large loopholes defining what such risk means. By tugging at citizen heartstrings, the argument is that we cannot possibly refuse to help mothers. Pro-abortion organizations vastly inflate this numbers, lie about the rate about maternal mortality, and basically use this as a ways and means towards abortion on the demand. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, abortionist turned pro-lifer and co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, stated as much.
We should expect that this percentage of life-threatening pregnancies will only decrease as modern medicine continues to make progress in saving mothers from these tragic complications. We should, therefore, be heading towards policies that treat both mother and child, as has always been the case. Namely, we must provide all ordinary means of keeping both the mother and the child alive, and the scope of these ordinary means expands as medicine progresses. The key to handling these situations is simply to acknowledge the humanity of both the mother and of the child.
What to Do in These Increasingly Rare Cases?
Again, abortion to save the mother should never happen. Therefore, in the increasingly rare cases where continuing the pregnancy causes real and immediate danger to the mother, the baby ought to be removed in such a way that every effort is made to preserve its life outside of the womb. Both mom and baby are treated. The baby is prematurely delivered; if the baby should pass away, this was an unsuccessful attempt at preserving the life of both. The baby was not exterminated.
The answer to this question is never to kill the child, even though its chances of survival may be slimmer. Yet, “preemie” survival rates are improving all the time. Even if the delivery occurred at at time when the baby was likely not viable, the difference is still the intent behind the act. It is never morally permissible to intend an evil outcome, and the death of an unborn child is most certainly an evil outcome.
For a more in-depth discussion of these cases, visit this article by Dr. Brian Clowes.
But What About Mental Health Reasons?
There is substantial evidence from several sources, including the journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and BMC Medicine, that abortions do not solve these issues, and usually aggravate them, even when compared with the issues that sometimes develop in miscarriage cases and others.
The research presented by the British Journal of Psychiatry 5 concludes that long term mental health problems in the wake of induced abortions increase and the probability of depression, anxiety, guilt, etc. goes up by 81% compared to mothers who carried the baby until birth. It is clear that mental health reasons worsen with abortion and compound the problem, rather than relieving such symptoms.
What If Our Baby Has a Potentially Fatal Condition?
To kill a child because it is likely to die from an illness is not justifiable. To do so is the core of the eugenicist outlook.
Just as it is never permissible to intentionally bring about the death of a terminally ill patient, the abortion of a child who is likely to die regardless is also an unacceptable form of ‘treatment.’ No matter the age of the patient, proper palliative care is owed to each one of them. There is no way that one can justify the claim that “a life like that is not worth living.” The proper response to this kind of tragedy is to do the best one can to care for the physical and more importantly spiritual well-being of this patient in extremis.
How Does Abortion Adversely Affect Maternal and Physical Health?
This is a big topic, but we would refer you to studies on post-abortion syndrome. We would also refer to examples from the website of Operation Rescue, which documents 911 calls in the U.S. and how many women are grievously harmed by abortions that Planned Parenthood alleges are medically necessary, including causing damage from a perforated uterus, hemorrhaging of blood, death of the child obviously and sometimes death of the mother.
The percentage of abortions that are performed out of “medical necessity” is a dynamic statistic, but in the United States it is exceedingly rare. It is in no way a justification for abortion.
These cases should not be called medically necessary abortions because the aim is made to preserve both the lives of child and mother. In these extremely rare cases, the only way to save the mother is by delivering, not killing, the baby. With hope, this percentage will further decrease in the near future, and the benefits of modern medicine will spread throughout the rest of the world yet to see these advances.
- Everett Koop, bgv (Toronto: Life Cycle Books, 1981), 61.
- University of California, San Francisco on high risk pregnancies.
- Akinrinola Bankole, Susheela Singh, and Taylor Haas. International Family Planning Perspectives, 24, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 117-127+152
- Websites of the Florida Department of Health, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Minnesota State Department of Health, Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services, South Dakota Department of Health, and Utah Department of Health.
- Priscilla K. Coleman, British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 199, Issue 3, September 2011, pp. 180-186. Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011.