Abortion To Save The Life Of The Mother

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. ~~James 3:13-18 (NASB95)

Who could, in good conscience, insist on bringing a pregnancy to term if doing so would cause the mother to die? Wouldn’t the mother’s death also result in the death of the unborn baby? Perhaps not always. But probably in most cases. Truly pro-life people would want to save one rather than let both mother and baby die.

Truly pro-life people also know that abortions for this reason occur very rarely. According to Table 2 in an article on why women have abortions in ScienceDirect, 3.8 women in the United States during 2004 cited “the health of the mother” as the reason for ending their pregnancies. At first glance, that statistic may surprise you, perhaps even challenging your stand against Roe v. Wade. Should we endanger 3.8 American lives simply to overturn a 1973 court decision? Do we really consider unborn lives as more valuable than the lives of women? That sort of attitude doesn’t sound very pro-life. Critics of the pro-life movement, in fact, raise the question of abortion to spare the mother’s life precisely because it indicates hypocrisy on the part of those who oppose abortion.

I want to refute this line of argumentation on two fronts: from logic and from the experience of a personal friend.

Firstly, go back to that table in the ScienceDirect article. Look carefully through all the reasons women gave for seeking abortions. Nowhere do the authors list the life of the mother. The wording specifically says “the health of the mother.” From that phrase, it’s understandable that most readers might interpret it as implying the life of the mother, but that may not be the wisest interpretation.

Actually, doctors and their patients can manipulate the word “health” to mean a variety of things. Would the baby negatively affect the mother’s quality of life? While not causing death, would pregnancy cause a health issue like gestational diabetes, forcing a hospitalization? Would a physically disabled mother have difficulty carrying a baby to term? Would pregnancy cause high blood pressure that required monitoring? Pregnancy does bring health complications, certainly, but some (maybe even most) of the complications can be managed under the care of medical professionals.

Often, “the health of the mother” refers to her mental or emotional health rather than to a threat to her physical life. And even here, terminology can be manipulated. As a matter of fact, using a mother’s mental health to justify abortion scares me because it can be abused. Additionally, women who go through with abortions sometimes struggle later on with feelings of guilt and remorse. Those feelings aren’t exactly conducive to good mental health either. Wouldn’t an abortion compound any real mental health problems for a woman? I’m not a certified Biblical Counselor, but I believe it most assuredly would. At any rate, an abortion for reasons pertaining to mental health absolutely doesn’t equate with saving the physical life of the mother.

Please note that the vast majority of pro-life advocates do not view the ending of an ectopic pregnancy as an abortion. Not only do such pregnancies threaten the lives of mothers, but the babies almost invariably can’t survive them either. Surgery to terminate ectopic pregnancies actually save one life instead of ending two. Because the babies won’t survive anyway, this procedure is actually consistent with pro-life values.

May I now shift to an example from real life? Admittedly, this example is anecdotal instead of taken from scientific data, and someone could easily counter it with an anecdotal story to demonstrate the opposite position. But my friend’s experience has been with me for over thirty years, and has strongly influenced my perspective on the life of the mother argument.

Annie (not her real name) was disabled from Friedreich’s Ataxia, a progressive condition that put her in a wheelchair shortly after she got married. When she became pregnant, her doctors warned her that having the baby would definitely threaten her life. Annie and her husband, being Christians, refused to abort. To the amazement of the doctors, she successfully delivered a healthy daughter.

About two years later, she became pregnant a second time. Instead of trusting her past experience, however, the doctors doubled down on their warnings. They strongly advised her to terminate the pregnancy, pleading with her husband to “talk sense into her.” But Annie chose to continue carrying her baby, even if doing so would cost her her own life. By God’s grace, her son was born without seriously impacting her health.

Annie died almost 20 years after her son’s birth. Clearly her doctors recommended two unnecessary abortions, wrongly predicting that childbirth would be fatal. Isn’t it possible, and maybe even probable, that doctors pressure other women into abortions instead of working with them to ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery? As my mother used to say, doctors aren’t God.

Be extremely careful about arguing for abortion to save the life of the mother. Use godly wisdom in evaluating individual situations, and recognize that a mother’s death may be mere conjecture rather than a foregone conclusion.

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