Life of the mother exception
An abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of the mother.
“There are no conceivable clinical situations today where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. In fact, if her health is threatened and an abortion is performed, the abortion increases risks the mother will incur regarding her health.”
-Dr. Bernard Nathanson, American Bioethics Advisory Commission
Alan Guttmacher, the late Planned Parenthood official and abortion advocate, wrote in 1967:
“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.” [The Case for Legalized Abortion (Berkeley, CA: Diablo Press), p. 9; as quoted by Hadley Arkes in First Things (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 397-398.]
Practical application of principle of double effect to save the life of the mother
Conditions do exist where life-saving treatment of a mother necessarily results in the death of a preborn child. These treatments, though, are legally and morally not considered abortion.
If a pregnant woman suffers from cancer of the uterus and her condition is such that treatment cannot be safely postponed until a viable baby can be delivered, the woman could legally receive medical care even if the law allowed no abortions whatsoever. In spite of the fact that radiation treatment or actual removal of the uterus would result in the death of a preborn child, such an action is not an abortion because the intent of the procedure is not to destroy the baby-it is to provide the best care possible for the mother without directly attacking the child.
Similarly, if conception results in an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy requiring diseased tissue in the Fallopian tube to be removed (thereby necessitating the removal of the child with the tissue), the operation is not an abortion because there is no intent to commit one. The diseased tissue, not the baby, is the target of the doctor. The absence of a life-of-the-mother exception would not prevent life-saving treatment from being administered.
Supreme Court recognition of the principle of double effect
In the landmark assisted suicide case, Vacco v. Quill, the Supreme Court reinforced the legal recognition of the principle of double effect:
“Just as a state may prohibit assisting suicide while permitting patients to refuse unwanted lifesaving treatment, it may permit palliative care related to that refusal, which may have the forseen but unintended ‘double effect’ of hastening the patient’s death…. (‘It is widely recognized that the provision of pain medication is ethically and professionally acceptable even when the treatment may hasten the patient’s death, if the medication is intended to alleviate pain and severe discomfort, not to cause death.’)”
-521 U.S. at 807-08, n. 11
The court’s reinforcement of this long-held principle clearly shows that the removal of an extrauterine pregnancy or a cancerous uterus is simply not an abortion in the eyes of the law and an “exception” is not needed to allow such removal.
The life of mother exception is interpreted so loosely by abortionists that it allows abortion for virtually any reason
The following excerpts are from the 1994 book Exceptions: Abandoning “The Least of These My Brethren,” by Judie Brown and Brian Young.
Under the Hyde Amendment, federal Medicaid money may be used to provide an abortion where the life of the mother would be endangered if she carried her child to term. In 1986, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report (Control No. 14-60150) concerning some 207 abortions performed in Ohio and Colorado for which doctors received Medicaid reimbursement.
[The report] showed that of 207 “life-of-the-mother” abortions, 179 were performed in physicians’ offices! HHS found that 182 were not coded as involving medical complications-surely strange where a woman’s life was in danger!
Further, according to the Inspector General’s report, three “physicians” who performed 89 percent of the 207 abortions under review “said that pregnancy was more life-endangering to a mother than an abortion, so they signed the certifications on that basis.”
A Colorado abortion clinic director claimed that “his extensive research has showed [sic] that carrying a pregnancy to term is about 100 times more life threatening than having an abortion. He, therefore, considered any pregnancy life-threatening and used that as justification for certifying that the mother’s life was endangered.
[A] review of the medical records for 15…abortions showed that the psychiatrist who evaluated the patient routinely claimed that “if this woman was forced to carry this pregnancy to term it might well present a threat to her long-term mental health and even possibly to her survival.” (Robert G. Marshall and Judie Brown, “Are Exception Clauses Pro-Life?” ALL About Issues, July-August, 1987, p. 25-26.)
Law professor Charles Rice quotes Dr. Michael Burnhill of the National Abortion Federation as saying on the April 22, 1980, MacNeil/Lehrer Report that a life-of-the-mother exception would permit him to perform whatever abortions he thought were “medically necessary.” This would include abortions to preserve the mother’s “health,” which he defines as a “condition in which one can actively participate in one’s total life, that you are not a cripple or an invalid” (The Human Life Amendment [American Life League, 1986], p. 19).
Basically speaking, if the medical profession, as a whole, adopts the views of the doctors mentioned above, a life-of-the-mother exception would result in abortion on demand. If every pregnancy is viewed as a threat to a woman’s life, any abortion then becomes justifiable under a life-of-the-mother exception.
ALL life of the mother exception statement
The following statement was created by the public policy department of American Life League, Inc. It was circulated to members of the medical and scientific communities for review and endorsement. To date, 418 physicians have signed this statement.
I agree that there is never a situation in the law or in the ethical practice of medicine where a preborn child’s life need be intentionally destroyed by procured abortion for the purpose of saving the life of the mother. A physician must do everything possible to save the lives of both of his patients, mother and child. He must never intend the death of either.
Statement on Truth and Life: Appendices
- Statement of Agreement
- Appendix 1: Principle of Double Effect
- Appendix 2: Explanation of Complicity with the Action
- Appendix 3: Life of the Mother Exception
- Appendix 4: Legal Recognition of Personhood
- Appendix 5: Ensoulment
- Appendix 6: The Zygote and Personhood
- Appendix 7: Natural Law Ethical Theory