Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the guest author.
Medical misinformation is dangerous to women. One of the myths that is being perpetuated today is that unrestricted abortion access is necessary for obstetricians to provide live-saving care for pregnant women. NPR recently stated that “some abortions are necessary to save the life of a patient.” Reuters similarly concluded in their fact-check that “termination of pregnancy can be necessary to save a woman’s life.”
I have been an obstetrician/gynecologist for 25 years and have cared for thousands of women during their pregnancies. I have treated hundreds of women that needed life-saving care and not one time have I had to perform an elective abortion, or an abortion performed by a health care practitioner with the intention of ending the life of the embryo or fetus in order to provide life-saving care.
The fact is that elective abortion is NOT lifesaving medical care. When medically necessary to treat a life-threatening medical condition for the mother, doctors can end the pregnancy in a way that respects both patients’ lives. This is completely different from an elective abortion that intentionally ends the life of a human being.
For most women, pregnancy is an incredibly joyful time full of excitement and anticipation. Tragically, there are times when health issues arise in the pregnant woman that require life-saving treatment that may lead to the recommendation of separating the pregnant woman and her baby prematurely. The unique medical situation will be considered as she and her doctor discuss treatment options, as well as how many weeks pregnant she is. Let me explain a bit more:
Viable fetus (22 weeks gestation or greater): When the mother has a life-threatening medical condition after viability, she and her doctor will discuss treatment options and if premature separation of the mother and baby must occur, the baby will be delivered either by induction of labor or cesarean section. An elective abortion never needs to happen. After delivery, the baby would receive medical care, including spending time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), if needed.
Peri-viable fetus (not quite 22 weeks gestation or greater): When the mother has a life-threatening medical situation around viability, she and her doctor would discuss treatment options and if premature separation of the mother and baby must occur, the baby will be delivered either by induction of labor or cesarean section. An elective abortion never needs to happen. What is different than with a viable fetus is that after delivery, the NICU team would evaluate the baby to determine whether the baby could be resuscitated and possibly survive. If so, the baby would then be cared for in the NICU. If too young to survive, the baby would be provided comfort medical care, with the family being offered the opportunity to hold, love, and say goodbye to their baby. They could also have a funeral if desired.
Pre-viable fetus (not near 22 weeks yet): When the mother has a life-threatening medical condition before viability and the baby has no chance at long-term survival, she and her doctor will discuss treatment options and if premature separation of the mother and baby must occur, induction of labor will be initiated. An elective abortion never needs to happen. The baby would likely not survive the induction but would be delivered intact (as opposed to an elective abortion in which the baby is dismembered), with the family once again being offered the opportunity to hold, love, and say goodbye to their baby. They could also have a funeral if desired.
In all three of these clinical situations, the maternal medical care is designed to save the mother’s life but may have the unintended consequence of ending her baby’s life. Although providing life-saving care to the mother may result in the unfortunate death of her baby, this is not the intent of the treatment rather the intent is to save the life of the mother. This differs from an elective abortion in which the intent is to end the life of the developing human being.
Obstetrician/gynecologists should always be able to offer lifesaving medical care to pregnant women. No laws on elective abortion should ever impact that. Collaboration between state legislators and obstetrician/gynecologists must occur as laws are being written related to abortion. Legislation must not confuse the diagnosis of an unintended pregnancy and desire for an elective abortion with medical diagnoses in pregnant women that require live-saving care.
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