Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision overturned Roe v. Wade, returning abortion law determinations to the individual states, several states have restricted abortion — and many doctors have used those laws to justify neglecting to provide basic case to pregnant women experiencing complications. However, in each of the recent cases trumpeted by the media, the standard treatment would not have been an abortion and was not prohibited by the pro-life laws currently in-place.
In light of this situation, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) has released new guidance written by Dr. Jeffrey Wright, FACOG, which clearly delineates what does not qualify as an abortion. The article, aptly titled, “What is NOT an Abortion?” was published in Issues in Law and Medicine.
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Dr. Wright explains that much of the confusion regarding what is or is not allowed under current pro-life laws stems from a difference in medical terminology compared to common usage. “[T]he medical term ‘abortion’ refers to any pregnancy that ends prior to 20 weeks,” Wright explains. “On the other hand, in our common language … we typically use the word ‘abortion’ to mean a procedure that was chosen in order to end a pregnancy that otherwise could have progressed to the delivery of a baby.”
Wright goes on to state that procedures used to treat ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages (when the preborn child has already died), and anembryonic pregnancies (when an embryo never develops), have not typically ever been considered to be abortions.
Additionally, although miscarriage or fetal death may sometimes result as a complication of medical treatments for some maternal health conditions, this is an unintended consequence, and again, is not considered an abortion.
“Fetal death can sometimes occur as a complication of an intrauterine surgical procedure to treat a single fetus or to treat an abnormality such as twin to twin transfusion syndrome,” Wright adds. “Again, those occurrences are not viewed as abortions.” Intent matters — and the intent in such cases is to medically treat the human beings involved, not to kill them.
Although Wright does not advocate intentionally ending the life of a preborn child, he does clarify that there are some conditions that can arise in pregnancy wherein the life-saving treatment of the mother can unintentionally result in the loss of the life of the preborn child, and that these situations are not illegal under pro-life laws.
He offers a list of conditions which might meet those criteria, while adding the following caveat: “It is important to understand that medical diagnosis, and furthermore prognosis, is imprecise. Estimations of level of risk to a mother’s life or her bodily function vary between physicians. Patients and physicians have a range of views regarding how much risk is acceptable. Two physicians may see the same patient and arrive at different diagnoses and then recommend substantially different treatments.”
“There is no doubt that the inaccurate and sometimes hysterical comments in the media have many physicians and others in healthcare fearing that they will violate a criminal statute,” Wright observes. However, he concludes, “These laws do not threaten physicians providing legitimate medical care.”