Analysis Abortion

The “No Life-Saving Abortions” Lie, and Why It Persists

Robin Marty

When Joe Walsh argued that "new technology" made abortions to save a woman's life unnecessary, he was parroting a dangerous view that could put millions of lives in jeopardy.

Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh may have shocked pundits last week when he claimed abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life, but where exactly did his get the idea that “new technology and advances in science” have made this groundbreaking new theory possible? From Ireland, where a September symposium gathered to present their medical hypothesis that there is no circumstance in which a woman’s health is saved by terminating a pregnancy.

The International Symposium on Excellence in Maternal Healthcare, which met in Dublin, Ireland in advance of the growing discussion on whether Ireland should allow more access for women to obtain abortions when their health is at risk, brought together medical professionals from across the country to advocate on behalf of “management” techniques that could allegedly be put in place in order to prevent a woman from seeking a termination on the grounds that being pregnant endangered her health.  A press release following the conclusion of the conference read:

Dr Eoghan de Faoite of the organizing committee for the symposium said that the research presented provided clear evidence that best practice medical care for pregnant women does not involve abortion.

“It was fascinating to learn about new therapies involving the safe delivery of chemotherapy during pregnancy and the exciting field of in-utero fetal surgery” he said. “When discussing matters of pregnancy and medicine it is vital that the voices of the real experts, those that actually care for pregnant women, be heard.” 

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“This Symposium puts an end to the false argument that Ireland needs abortion to treat women, and it was encouraging to hear the international speakers commend Ireland’s high standards of maternal healthcare and low rates of maternal mortality,” he added.

“The Dublin Declaration stating that abortion is not medically necessary was a statement of fact agreed by medical experts and reflecting best medical practice in maternal healthcare,” stated the medical advisor to the Life Institute, Dr Seán Ó Domhnaill.

“This is a globally significant outcome, which shows abortion has no place in treating women and their unborn children,” he affirmed.

The conference focused on the anti-choice position that when it comes to treating pregnancies with maternal complications, not only are both mother and fetus or embryo “patients” but that the unborn patient’s “life” takes precedent over the health of the woman carrying it.

Can both “lives” be saved? Possibly, in some cases. It’s the amount of threat to a woman’s health in the process that is an acceptable risk that becomes the real gamble, and it’s a sacrifice that anti-choice medical professionals seem eager to force them into making. The most well-known trade off is the idea of the “pro-life” way to deal with an ectopic pregnancy. In the “no direct abortions ever” community, an ectopic should never be treated with a termination, traditionally an injection of methotrexate before the pregnancy progresses far enough to damage a fallopian tube. That is considered a direct abortion, where as anti-choice physicians recommend waiting to see if you miscarry naturally first (a possible outcome for all pregnancies but no more likely than any other time). The reason, besides rejection of ever terminating a pregnancy? Some physicians worry that the extremely rare case of a “hidden” twin that is yet undetected on an ultrasound could be lost in the process as well.

Holding off surgery and watchful waiting in this case might have resulted in spontaneous resolution of the tubal pregnancy or would have required surgical removal of the tubal pregnancy when the embryo was likely to be dead, but in both cases the uterine pregnancy would probably have survived.  Unfortunately, the chemical abortion killed both babies, much to the dismay of this young pro-life woman.

It is only ethical to remove the tubal pregnancy if spontaneous resolution does not occur after watchful waiting and if the physician is 100% certain that there are no twins.  At this point, the embryo in the fallopian tube is likely to be dead and, even if not, the death is unavoidable and unintentional, and the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother. 

What about abortion in the case of a woman with cancer? The current advocacy is that the woman should simply wait and begin chemotherapy and treatment after the first trimester to reduce the risk to the fetus. It’s a choice that women and their doctors should weigh the risks and advantages of on a case by case basis. But to take it away from them all together, especially in cases of extremely advanced or aggressive illness? That is exactly what a “no exceptions” abortion ban would do. We saw what that meant in Columbia, where a teen was forced to wait until 13 weeks to receive treatment. Both the girl and the fetus she was carrying were lost as a result.

It’s no wonder that The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are demanding that politicians “Get out of our exam rooms.”

Contrary to the inaccurate statements made yesterday by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event, particularly for many women with chronic medical conditions. Despite all of our medical advances, more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the US. In fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives.

Unfortunately, inaccurately stating that abortions are “never necessary” to save the life or protect the health of a pregnant woman or girl isn’t the only danger of anti-choice legislators practicing medicine in abortion politics. When it comes to actually putting an exception into practice, the law puts medical professionals in nearly as much risk as their patients.

In researching my first book this summer, I had the opportunity to talk to a variety of different providers in multiple states, all with different rules when it comes to abortion access. All of them had the same uneasiness when it came to exceptions based on medical diagnosis, as vague bills written by those who aren’t physicians make it unclear exactly when an abortion is acceptable, or when a provider could be accused of breaking the law. Most exceptions are being written only to include cases where not aborting could “result in her death or in substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” As a result, doctors are being asked to decide at what point they must allow a woman to put her life at risk before they can justify performing an abortion without a potential arrest.

One Wisconsin provider discussed the attempt to decide when exactly an abortion can be performed as a decision of exactly how endangered her life had to be. Was a 20 percent likelihood of the patient dying enough, or did he have to wait until actual organs began to fail before he could guarantee a “justified” abortion? In both cases, a fetus prior to viability would still die, but in the former case the patient could be saved and regain her health, while in the latter her recovery may be more drawn out or even impossible.

When an abortion is allowed under these unclear medical exceptions is nearly impossible to ascertain. Just as disturbing is the way that the laws mandate how an abortion is to be performed. In Georgia, where the state legislature nearly deadlocked on a “no exceptions” 20 week post conception ban, a last-minute compromise granted a woman the ability to get an abortion if the pregnancy was “medically futile.”

The exception is extremely narrow, but the way an abortion could be performed is even more troublesome. The bill mandated that termination could only be done in a way which:

[I]n reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive unless, in reasonable medical judgment, termination of the pregnancy in that manner would pose a greater risk either of the death of the pregnant woman or of the substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman than would another available method.

The end result? Medically futile pregnancies—designated as such because a doctor has confirmed that the fetus would have no ability to survive meaningfully outside of the womb—would be terminated in a way most inclined to produce a live birth. No drugs could be given that would stop the heart before a process is undergone. It would be likely that in the case of those fetuses on the edge of viability or a few weeks beyond, the woman carrying the fetus would be forced to undergo a cesarean section in order to facilitate a live birth.

It’s that argument that Ruth Cline, the opponent of Rep. Doug McKillip, the sponsor of the Georgia bill, has been using on the campaign trail as a reason for voting against him in November. McKillip said he was simply writing legislation to ensure, “You deliver the baby in the way that’s most likely to save both lives,” despite the fact that the fetus has already been ruled unlikely to live much beyond delivery, and that the woman would be likely to need future operations for any subsequent pregnancies as a result.

What McKillip and other lawmakers who have proposed this “best opportunity for the unborn child to survive” language have done is essentially removed exceptions all together. An “abortion” that is really just the delivery of a baby that can’t survive outside the womb by any means necessary to preserve the life of the fetus is no different than the decision to force a woman not to end an ectopic pregnancy until her tube ruptures and only then remove embryo as part of the procedure. These absolutely extremist exceptions exist not out of some form of necessity or compassion but to create medical protocol that enforces their notion that direct abortion is never a needed procedure.

McKillip, Walsh, and other anti-choice extremists are willing to put women’s health — both her immediate health and her future health and fertility—in jeopardy in order to adhere to an extremist belief that there is never a need for abortion.  It isn’t “pro-life” to force women to risk their lives on behalf of a child that may or may not survive, or to make her put herself into physical danger before she is allowed to terminate a pregnancy. If politicians were truly interested in growing families, they would be just as anxious to preserve maternal health in order for women to be able to give birth to larger families rather than put her life at risk on behalf of a child that isn’t likely to survive.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.