Is Abortion Ever Medically Justifiable? by Praying Medic
January 22nd was the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing abortion. One of the front runners in this year’s Presidential election has taken a stand against abortion, regardless of the reason. Many people believe we must allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is at risk. I won’t discuss cases of rape or incest in this post, but I would like to examine the idea that abortion should be reserved for cases where the mother’s life may be at risk. First we need to bring a little clarity to the terms used in this discussion.
As they pertain to abortion, the “life” of the mother is completely different issue from the “health” of the mother. Whether an abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman is easy to determine. If an abortion is the only (or most reasonable) option known to medical experts to save the life of a pregnant woman with a certain medical condition, it is medically justifiable. The health of a pregnant woman is a completely different issue.
The Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion ruling intended to allow abortion during the first two trimesters, but not during the third—unless the pregnancy posed a threat to the health of the mother. So far, so good. But the Court defined the word “health” so broadly that it can be applied to almost anything. The Court defined “health” to include “physical, emotional, psychological, (or) familial” trauma. These qualifiers allow for an almost unlimited number of possibilities.
If for example, a pregnant woman suffers shame or guilt because of how her family perceives her pregnancy, this would constitute a valid reason for an abortion, because it negatively impacts her metal health. If a mother believes her health may suffer in any way—regardless of which health factor she identifies—she can legally have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy. The point here is that making an exception for the health of the mother is not the same as making an exception to save her life.
There are a number of medical conditions that must be considered when looking at what procedures might be needed to save the life of a pregnant woman. We’ll look at them one at a time, but first a few basic facts about pregnancy:
A full term pregnancy is considered to be 40 weeks in duration. Not surprisingly, full term babies have a very high survival rate. But what about babies delivered before full term?
Due mostly to advances in technology, a baby that is delivered today at 25 weeks gestation has between a 50-80% chance of survival to discharge from the hospital. At 24 weeks the odds are ten percent less. At 23 weeks it has a 10-30% chance of survival. At 22 weeks the chance of survival drops to less than 10%. There are no known cases of a baby surviving birth at 21 week gestation. (source) A baby delivered after 23 weeks (whether by vaginal birth or by c-section) has a decent chance of survival to discharge from the hospital.
Now let’s look at specific medical conditions that could be a threat to a pregnant woman. You might imagine there are dozens of different medical conditions that could potentially threaten the life of a pregnant woman, but in fact—there are only a few. Eclampsia is one of them.
Eclampsia is a condition marked by hypertension, protein in the urine and in serious cases—seizures. In rare cases, eclampsia can be fatal, due to prolonged and uncontrolled seizures. But eclampsia is a late-term condition. Ninety percent of cases occur after the 34th week of gestation. Although the symptoms of eclampsia can be treated with medications, the best treatment is delivering the fetus—either by inducing labor or by c-section.
Preeclampsia is a related condition that has the same symptoms as eclampsia, but without seizures. Preeclampsia can begin around the 20th week, but it is not a threat to the mother’s life. It is only when preeclampsia becomes eclampsia that it threatens the mother’s life, and that happens late enough in pregnancy for the fetus to survive delivery. Since eclampsia is only a threat late in pregnancy and since it can always be treated by delivering the fetus, there is no medical necessity for an abortion to save the mother’s life.