David C. Reardon
In the most recent presidential debate, Hillary Clinton claimed late-term abortions are sometimes necessary to save women’s lives. That’s great rhetoric, but it is not supported by even a single medical study.
Before examining the “abortion to save women’s lives” question, it is first important to note that only about 1.2 percent of abortions (about 15,000 per year) take place after 20 weeks of gestation. Of these, a good portion are due to partner abandonment or parental pressure.
Another chunk are due to an adverse diagnosis of fetal development or simply fear of a fetal defect after exposure to some drug, for example. So only a small percentage of late-term abortions are done with the sole intent of saving the mother from dying from complications with pregnancy.
But even that small number of “lifesaving” abortions is questionable, because the best medical evidence reveals that of the few women who die of disease while pregnant it appears there’s not even one cause of death abortion can prevent (see “Therapeutic Abortion: The Medical Argument,” in the Irish Medical Journal).
Abortion Is Never a Lifesaving Procedure
Here’s a quick example. Abortion is often recommended for pregnant women who are diagnosed with cancer. But there is zero evidence that those who have abortions are more likely to beat cancer or survive compared to those who refuse abortion. Similarly, the researchers found, there was not a single death among the women who died that an induced abortion could have predicted or prevented.
Now, skeptics may rightly wonder if they should trust my reliance on a single study. In response, I’ll note this study has been around for more than 20 years and no one advocating abortion has published a study to dispute these findings—despite the abortion industry’s access to hundreds of millions of abortion records worldwide. If they had data to support the myth that abortion saves lives, they would have published it. Absent any evidence, they simply ignore contrary evidence and continue to appeal to the “common sense” myth that abortion is necessary, at least in some hard cases, to save women’s lives.
The lack of medical evidence for any benefit from abortion (in saving women’s lives) is further magnified by the fact that record linkage studies have proven that abortion is associated with a decline in overall health and increase in short- and longer-term mortality rates among women exposed to abortion. There is even a dose effect, with the negative effects on longevity multiplied with each exposure to abortion.
So not only does abortion fail to reduce mortality rates among women, it actually contributes to higher mortality rates (most notably in a three-fold increased risk of suicide compared to women not pregnant and a six-fold increased risk compared to those who carry to term), but also due to other negative impacts on women’s health.
Experts Say Abortion is Unnecessary
In fact, a number of doctors have argued that abortion is, in fact, unnecessary and even detrimental for women facing life-threatening conditions. More than 1000 medical professionals and researchers in Ireland have signed the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare, which states:
As experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynecology, 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.
In 2013, Dr. Anthony Levatino, an ob-gyn who formerly performed abortions and has treated women with high-risk pregnancies, testified before a Congressional subcommittee that abortion is not a viable treatment option when a mother’s life is at risk:
Before I close, I want to make a comment on the necessity and usefulness of utilizing second and third trimester abortion to save women’s lives. I often hear the argument that we must keep abortion legal in order to save women’s lives in cases of life threatening conditions that can and do arise in pregnancy.
Albany Medical Center, where I worked for over seven years, is a tertiary referral center that accepts patients with life threatening conditions related to or caused by pregnancy. I personally treated hundreds of women with such conditions in my tenure there. There are several conditions that can arise or worsen typically during the late second or third trimester of pregnancy that require immediate care. In many of those cases, ending or “terminating” the pregnancy, if you prefer, can be life saving. But is abortion a viable treatment option in this setting? I maintain that it usually, if not always, is not.
Before a Suction D & E procedure can be performed, the cervix must first be sufficiently dilated. In my practice, this was accomplished with serial placement of laminaria. Laminaria is a type of sterilized seaweed that absorbs water over several hours and swells to several times its original diameter. Multiple placements of several laminaria at a time are absolutely required prior to attempting a suction D & E.
In the mid second trimester, this requires approximately 36 hours to accomplish. When utilizing the D & X abortion procedure, popularly known as Partial-Birth Abortion, this process requires three days as explained by Dr. Martin Haskell in his 1992 paper that first described this type of abortion.
In cases where a mother’s life is seriously threatened by her pregnancy, a doctor more often than not doesn’t have 36 hours, much less 72 hours, to resolve the problem. Let me illustrate with a real -life case that I managed while at the Albany Medical Center. A patient arrived one night at 28 weeks gestation with severe pre-eclampsia or toxemia.
Her blood pressure on admission was 220/160. As you are probably aware, a normal blood pressure is approximately 120/80. This patient’s pregnancy was a threat to her life and the life of her unborn child. She could very well be minutes or hours away from a major stroke. This case was managed successfully by rapidly stabilizing the patient’s blood pressure and “terminating” her pregnancy by Cesarean section. She and her baby did well. This is a typical case in the world of high-risk obstetrics. In most such cases, any attempt to perform an abortion “to save the mother’s life” would entail undue and dangerous delay in providing appropriate, truly life-saving care.
During my time at Albany Medical Center I managed hundreds of such cases by “terminating” pregnancies to save mother’s lives. In all those hundreds of cases, the number of unborn children that I had to deliberately kill was zero.
Abortion doctor Don Sloan wrote in 2002:
If a woman with a serious illness — heart disease, say, or diabetes — gets pregnant, the abortion procedure may be as dangerous for her as going through pregnancy … with diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, even breast cancer, the chance that pregnancy will make the disease worse is no greater that the chance that the disease will either stay the same or improve. And medical technology has advanced to a point where even women with diabetes and kidney disease can be seen through a pregnancy safely by a doctor who knows what he’s doing. We’ve come a long way since my mother’s time. … The idea of abortion to save the mothers’ life is something that people cling to because it sounds noble and pure — but medically speaking, it probably doesn’t exist. It’s a real stretch of our thinking. 
Intentional abortion for maternal health, particularly after viability, is one of the great deceptions used to justify all abortion. The very fact that the baby of an ill mother is viable raises the question of why, indeed, it is necessary to perform an abortion to end the pregnancy. With any serious maternal health problem, termination of pregnancy can be accomplished by inducing labor or performing a cesarean section, saving both mother and baby. If a mother needs radiation or chemotherapy for cancer, the mother’s treatment can be postponed until viability, or regimens can be selected that will be better tolerated by the unborn baby. In modern neonatal intensive care units 90 percent of babies at 28 weeks survive, as do a significant percentage of those at earlier gestations.
So why do doctors continue to recommend abortion in cases where other treatment options are available?
Doctors Want Abortion to Save Themselves Trouble
The real reason doctors recommend abortion for pregnant women facing a disease is that abortion makes it easier for the doctor to focus on just her disease. Abortion instantly reduces the number of patients doctors have to worry about by half.
After an abortion, doctors no longer have to avoid treatments that may hurt the baby. Plus, they no longer have to worry about lawsuits in the unlikely event the baby will be born with any birth defects, which may or may not be associated with the doctors’ treatment decisions. Ignorance also plays a factor, as Davenport notes:
A major reason for unnecessary abortion referrals is ignorance, to put it bluntly, especially on the part of physicians in medical specialties inexperienced in treating women with high-risk pregnancies. …
Goodwin’s essay presents several cases in which pregnant women with cardiac conditions, cancer, or severe renal and autoimmune disease have been told categorically that they “needed” an abortion for their health or to save their life. But in every case the women were given wrong diagnoses, or incomplete information, and not offered any alternatives other than abortion. One example was a 38-year-old woman, 11 weeks pregnant, with breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. She was told that chemotherapy offered her the best chance for survival, that she needed to abort her pregnancy prior to treatment, and that her prognosis was worse if she remained pregnant. Goodwin states:
“We discussed with her published evidence that breast cancer is not affected by pregnancy and that the chemotherapy regimen required for her condition is apparently well-tolerated by the fetus. The experience with any given chemotherapy regimen is limited, and we were frank with the patient that there were open questions about long-term effects. When her physician was informed of the patient’s desire to undergo chemotherapy and continue the pregnancy, he suggested that we take care of her and accept the liability. The patient underwent chemotherapy (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) and delivered a baby boy who appeared entirely normal at birth. That many chemotherapy regimens can be continued without apparent ill-effect in pregnancy is information readily available to any interested physician, but the patient was not informed.”
In the prior case, the reluctance of the woman’s physician to treat her was caused by a fear of being sued for unforeseen complications in the baby. An unfortunate reality is that the legal burden for the physician is severe if all possible risks of continuing the pregnancy are not communicated to the patient. In the U.S., multimillion dollar court judgments for “wrongful life” are allowed if the patients assert that they would have had an abortion had they known a particular problem might have ensued. It is impossible to foresee and enumerate each and every possible complication. But if abortion is recommended, even with minimal or no justification, there is no legal penalty. Many women are thus not advised of all the possibilities for treatment and referred for abortion unnecessarily. A good source of information to counter the pro-abortion bias among physicians in these difficult situations is consultation with a pro-life maternal fetal medicine specialist.
In short, many, if not most, “therapeutic” abortions are of more benefit to the doctor’s interests than the woman’s interests.
It is also very clear in the medical literature that women who undergo a “therapeutic” abortion experience the highest rates of depression, grief, guilt, divorces, and other psychological problems. The negative psychological effects of late-term pregnancy are undisputed, even by pro-abortion experts. It’s doubtful parents considering a late-term abortion are informed of this, however, especially when there is any indication of fetal anomaly.
In these cases, those advising abortion are often operating from a eugenic mindset. They are ideologically biased to encourage abortion of the “unfit” and to exaggerate the negatives of carrying to term while underestimating the psychological, physical, familial, and spiritual costs of inducing an abortion.
As can be easily imagined, the psychological costs for women (and their families) who originally intended to carry to term are magnified by the fact that they were originally excited about having a child, have been bonding with their babies for many months, and only after this bonding have felt “obligated” to abort for therapeutic reasons.
Here’s the bottom line: even if a doctor is convinced abortion is necessary to save a woman’s life, he or she should disclose to the patient and her family that a “therapeutic” abortion poses its own risks to her future physical and mental health. The doctor should also admit that the recommendation to abort can only be justified by appeals to the “art of medicine,” not any actual statistically validated studies.
1. Don Sloan, M.D. and Paula Hartz. Choice: A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma. New York: International Publishers 2002 P 45-46
Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare
Why Legalizing Abortion Worldwide Won’t Save Women’s Lives
Legal Abortion Doesn’t Save Women’s Lives, Report Shows
Is Late-Term Abortion Ever Necessary?
Women Who Died From “Lifesaving” Abortions
Abortion Has No Benefits, But Does Have Risks, New Research Shows
Study: Later Abortions More Likely to Be Unwanted, Are Linked to Psychological Problems
Higher Death Rates After Abortion Found in U.S., Finland and Denmark