“Abortion Never Saves a Woman’s Life” #Savita

I just came upon a short video.

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One wonders if they will issue a retraction. Actually, one doesn’t have to wonder. The answer is no. In fact, The Life Institute, which put out the above video, is currently fixated on whether or not Irish pro-choice groups knew about Savita’s case before the media broke it.

As a child, teen, and young adult involved in the pro-life movement, I did not deny that there are times when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life and an abortion is the only way to save it. I did, however, contend that doctors often took advantage of the “life of the mother” exemption and argue that it was a noble thing for a woman to sacrifice her life to carry a pregnancy to term. A friend of my mother’s actually chose to carry a pregnancy to term rather than abort so that her cancer could be treated. The result was that she died, and my parents helped out with childcare as her husband set about the difficult task of raising a toddler and a newborn alone.

My point is that the argument that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life is new to me. I’m not sure how widespread it is, but from my perusal of pro-life sites and information following the death of Savita Hallapanavar, it appears that it is more widespread in the pro-life movement than I had any idea of.

Here is how Life Action News, for example describes the above video:

Abortion is not needed to treat cancer. In fact, it’s not needed to treat any medical condition arising in pregnancy.” Those are the opening lines of a powerful and important new video message from the Life Institute in Ireland, an organization that helps expose the inherent truth that abortion is never medically necessary.

Abortion advocates and others have proposed for years that abortion is necessary (rather, a “necessary evil”) to save women whose lives are at risk during pregnancy. This new video debunks that claim and exposes the fact that abortion is never needed to treat any medical condition arising during pregnancy.

Note that the argument is not that it is rare for abortion to be needed to save a woman’s life. Rather, the argument is that an abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life.

Tell that to the pregnant teenage girl who died in the Dominican Republic last summer. Tell that to Savita Hallapanavar. Tell that to Edyta. Tell that to Martha Solay. Tell that to Olga Reyes. (For more on the idea that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life, where it came from and where it is now, see this post on RH Reality Check.)

One thing I have found as I have read about this issue is that those arguing that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life state that women should be allowed to have things like cancer treatment, even if it harms the fetus, but that aborting a fetus so that the woman can have cancer treatment is not permissible. Aborting a fetus, an intentional taking of a life, is not permissible. Damaging a fetus through radiation administered to a pregnant woman with cancer is, in contrast, permissible because it is not the intentional taking of a life. Of course, some of the women mentioned in the previous paragraph died because they lived in countries that would not even permit them the treatment for their conditions for fear it would harm the fetus. Nevertheless, the group in the video and others I have found online argue that such treatment, even though it would harm the fetus, is moral and ethical and should be administered to women in life threatening conditions.

Do you know what effect radiation has on fetuses?

Because the human embryo or fetus is protected in the uterus, a radiation dose to a fetus tends to be lower than the dose to its mother for most radiation exposure events. However, the human embryo and fetus are particularly sensitive to ionizing radiation, and the health consequences of exposure can be severe, even at radiation doses too low to immediately affect the mother. Such consequences can include growth retardation, malformations, impaired brain function, and cancer.

I’m trying to imagine the situation suggested here. Here is the scenario. You are eight weeks pregnant and have just been diagnosed with cancer. They’ve caught it early, and if you get chemotherapy now you can probably kick it right away and not have any long term consequences. You are told that you may not have an abortion. Your consequences are either to get chemotherapy and live, but give birth to a baby with brain damage, malformations, and quite possibly cancer, or to wait seven months until your pregnancy is over and then have chemotherapy, even though that may be too late for you. That, quite simply, is the choice these groups are offering women when they glibly state that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life.

But there’s something else, too. The results of the full investigation into Savita’s death have not yet been released and the investigation is ongoing, but from what we know right now it appears that it was the miscarrying pregnancy that caused Savita’s septicemicia (blood poisoning). In other words, this is not a case where she could have simply been treated while remaining pregnant. She was miscarrying and that miscarriage was killing her, and yet the doctors would do nothing to help her because the fetus still had a heartbeat. In other words, leaving aside the horrifying moral choice these groups want to give pregnant women stricken with cancer or other conditions, they are still wrong when they say that an abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life. Savita’s death puts a face on the consequences of their misinformation.

For more, see “Pro-Lifers Play Fast and Loose with ‘Life of the Mother’ Exemption.” See also “I Know This Much Is True” and “Death in Ireland Is a Wake Up Call.”

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • machintelligence

    I am so angry with this group that I am having trouble thinking straight. First and foremost, they need to be called liars to their faces. If they refuse to apologize and make a retraction I would be willing to contribute to an advertising campaign to show them for what they are.
    I intend to comment on their website, but I have little hope that anything I write will make it through “moderation” .
    I also have a suspicion that the relative safety of pregnancy in Ireland results from selective reporting and “cooking the books”. An investigation into maternal deaths in general (not just this one) is probably in order.

    • Karen

      Ireland outsources abortions to England, a couple hours ferry ride away. (It’s expensive to do it, but happens a lot.) I think it is highly likely, therefore, that Ireland’s good maternal health rates result as much from forcing higher-risk pregnancies over to Liverpool. Women who have, say, blood clots or pre-eclampsia show up on the English statistics for maternal injuries because they were treated in England, even though they live all the rest of the time in Ireland.

    • Niemand

      I also have a suspicion that the relative safety of pregnancy in Ireland results from selective reporting and “cooking the books”.

      This appears to be almost certainly true. Though it may not be intentional or conscious.

    • machintelligence

      Wonder of wonders, Live Action News does allow open commenting.
      http://liveactionnews.org/international/remembering-savita-halappanavar/
      http://liveactionnews.org/investigative/fact-check/no-more-lies/

      Let’s give them something to think about.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    Thank you for the names. They should be on the tip of the tongue of every pro choice person in the world. She should be able to recite them on demand to everybody who claims they care about life and then says that mothers are never in danger.

    Self-delusion is a dangerous thing.

  • http://lapalma-island.com Sheila Crosby

    The vatican also insists – against all evidence – that condoms don’t prevent the spread of AIDS. This lie has probably killed millions.

  • Niemand

    Ah cancer. Slightly altered true story: Patient had nasty but extremely curable lymphoma and became pregnant while actually taking chemotherapy. Which will kill the embryo if it continues. Pt is technically an adult, but is completely dependent on her mother in law for food and shelter. If she refuses to do what MIL tells her, she’ll be on the street. With lymphoma.

    Anyway, family meeting takes place. MIL says no abortion, no matter what. Chemo will have to wait until after the baby is born. It is pointed out that the cancer is aggressive and pt will not survive long enough to delivery the fetus. MIL says, in so many words, “So what?” In front of pt. Ultrasound showing nonviable embryo comes to rescue and MIL, not being a member of the Catholic hierarchy agrees that abortion is the only reasonable option. Social worker starts working to get pt out of situation where she is dependent on someone who wants to kill her.

    Pt is, as far as I know, still alive and cancer free.

  • Michael Busch

    Another example of when immediate abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life:

    Lassa fever (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lassa_fever) infects hundreds of thousands of people a year, primarily in west Africa. The overall mortality rate is ~1%, so about 5000 people die from the disease each year. But the mortality rate is over _80%_ for women with third-trimester pregnancy, if the disease is left untreated. The virus preferentially attacks the fetus and placenta, killing the fetus and turning it into a viral bomb. The effects are something like what happened to Savita Hallapanavar, except with a hemorrhagic virus rather than bacteria. Treatment without immediate induced abortion leads to 40% of patients dying and the remainder eventually spontaneously aborting; inducing abortion early on brings the death rate down to ~10%.

  • “Rebecca”

    I heard this once or twice in my days in the pro-life movement, but most of the time people allowed for exceptions where the life of the mother was at stake. This is really weird to me, I can only imagine it’s catching on because some Pro-lifers really hate the idea of non-black-and-white abortion situations. “Oh, abortions are never, ever necessary? How convenient for our viewpoint!”
    Also, have they never heard of ectopic pregnancy?

    On a related, disgusting, note, I can’t help but notice that the Pro-lifers are squawking that we shouldn’t use Savita’s case as an example of the dangers of the Pro-life agenda, but if a woman has complications from an abortion, you can be sure they will trumpet it to their heart’s content.

    • Jackie

      Here in Ireland, doctors will remove the fallopian tube with the embryo inside. This is as to not “intentionally kill” the embryo, but save the mothers’ life.
      That’s great and all, but now you’re left with half a chance to conceive again. I just don’t get it.

  • Ken L.

    Another big problem is that most of these people just don’t understand how our healthcare system works. Plenty of Oncologists just flat-out refuse to treat a pregnant patient. Most people don’t realize that except for EMTALA (Emergency and Active Labor) and civil rights violations (race / sex / religion) doctor’s can absolutely refuse to treat patients and frequently do so. If a woman is in an area with few Oncologists and none of them will treat a pregnant patient she’s just out of luck. Chemo and radiation treatments are a long-term treatment, so it’s not like you can just travel farther the one time for the treatment. A woman can be in a situation where treatment without an abortion is possible, but no doctors will do it. I think this is actually more common than the straight-up cases where abortion is an absolute medical necessity, but in practice it ends up being the same thing anyway. Reading the stories of some of these women after Dr. Tiller’s murder was what flipped me firmly to the pro-choice side.

  • Christine

    So if the case where a woman will die if she doesn’t have an abortion doesn’t actually exist, is Saint Gianna going to be de-canonized? (Clearly she wasn’t a martyr, because it can’t have been the pregnancy that was the problem.)

  • Angela

    I’m dumbfounded by this argument. I always thought it was common knowledge that ANY pregnancy carries some inherent risk to the mother. Recently a cousin needed to be induced at 24 weeks because of severe eclampsia. Her son (who was very much loved and wanted) lived for only 3 days. Obviously this wasn’t an abortion but the baby did still die because the pregnancy was terminated prematurely. My cousin was not demonized or lectured by even the most staunchly pro-life of her friends and relatives. Everyone could recognize it for the tragedy it was. But when another cousin of mine had a similar experience at 20 weeks certain members of the family called her out as a “selfish baby-killer” because it occurred prior to the point of viability so terminating the pregnancy was considered an abortion. Make sense of that if you can.

  • Karen

    I just read the comments on The Anchoress’s Patheos site, discussing Savita’s death. Commenter Adam: The tough, difficult to explain and harder to accept concept that we nonetheless need to teach is that there may be rare but difficult circumstances where we cannot save the mother’s life without directly and intentionally killing the child, which is murder. Again, IANA doctor, so I don’t know what circumstances those would be and whether modern technology has made those rare or impossible. Apparently they didn’t exist for St. Gianna Molla, who accepted death rather than aborting her child.

    HOW DO WE EXPLAIN TO THE WORLD THAT IN SOME CASES (EVEN IF NOT THIS ONE), YOU NEED TO SUCK IT UP AND PREPARE FOR AN HONORABLE DEATH OVER AN ACT OF MORTAL SIN? PARTICULARLY when the world doesn’t accept that the unborn child is human? I’d love to hear some answers on that one, but that’s the fight we’re facing.”

    I made the relevant comment upper case. Adam believes it the place of the law to require women to die. I am very, very, glad he’s not a doctor.

    • Niemand

      Well, there you have it. Adam is willing to let others-specifically women-take risks that he will never face in the interests of his beliefs. It’s clearly not even about saving “babies” because even he acknowledges that the fetus has no chance. It’s just about thwarting women’s freedom. At all costs-at least, all costs to women. If men started being put at risk in some way, I expect Adam’s position would change abruptly.

      • machintelligence

        “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” Florynce Kennedy (1916 – 2000)

    • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

      Funny how all of the people advocating that these women accept death over abortion are all men…..things would be so so different if men were the ones to actually bring forth life.

      • Steve

        They aren’t all men. If you go to Catholic sites you’ll find women saying the same crap. Not that explicitly, but the result of their “suggestions” is the same.

        Oh, another insanity I’ve seen several people saying is that she should have gotten a c-section so that she could cuddle the “baby” for a while. Or people thinking that there may actually be some chance of it surviving.

      • Niemand

        I’ve seen several people saying is that she should have gotten a c-section so that she could cuddle the “baby” for a while.

        Wow. I wonder if any of them have ever seen a 17 week fetus in real life. It’s not very cuddly. In fact, it’s kind of horrifying in real life. Not much like an actual baby or even a 24 week fetus.

  • Mostlylurking

    Abortion is never necessary to save the life of the woman, if it is never necessary to save a woman’s life. To quote Martin Luther “if a woman dies in childbirth, let her. That is what she is for.” and I’m none too surprised if this sentiment isn’t hiding in the subconscious of many of these “pro-life” groups. Women are merely vessels, and should readily sacrifice themselves to the vastly more important fetus. And if they do not voluntarily, well, make sure they do. Excuse me, I feel kind of sick now.

    • Karen

      See my comment above yours. Adam, commenting at The Anchoress, flatly said that if there was no way to save the mother without directly terminating the pregnancy, then Mom should just “suck it up and have an honorable death.”

      I need a drink and a shower after reading that.

      • http://humanisticjones.blogspot.com HumanisticJones

        “You there, critically ill woman! Die valiantly in honor of my beliefs! Just lie back and think of the Vatican!”

        There is no chemical that can scrub off that slime. There is no booze that can brain bleach those words… though I’m sure as hell going to try to find one.

    • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

      sadly, you are hitting on soemthing. women have no value in most religious circles.

  • Alexis

    “As long as there is a heart beat”…from the mother, she should have a choice what happens within and to her body.

  • Steve

    I’m done with reading comments of these Catholic freaks. It’s just disgusting.

    So much BS about “She should just have been given antibiotics”, never mind that this wouldn’t have gotten rid of the infectious tissue that caused the problem or that it would still leave her cervix dilated, leaving her literally open to more infection. The standard treatment is emptying the uterus AND antibiotics.

    Many also say “We need to wait for the facts”, which is extremely hypocritical coming from religious fanatics. These people are just sick.

    • machintelligence

      Lawyer’s rule: 1. When the facts are against you, argue the law.
      2. When the law is against you, argue the facts.
      3. When both are against you, call the other lawyer names.

      We are about to begin phase 3.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia lucrezaborgia

    Yet if the fetus was viable, the recommendation would be for it to be delivered as fast as possible.

    Cognitive dissonance much???

    • Michael Busch

      I am confused as to who you are claiming has cognitive dissonance.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia lucrezaborgia

        It’s to anyone who claims that abortion is never necessary.

        If abortion is never necessary, then why is the standard of care to induce if the fetus is viable? Clearly, in those cases, removing the fetus IS necessary.

      • Michael Busch

        Ah. That makes sense.

        Technically, if the fetus is potentially viable the procedure is no longer an abortion. It’s an emergency delivery and time to call NICU. But your point is valid.

      • Steve

        The problem with the Catholic dogma here is that for anyone with a brain, the term “abortion” mostly refers to the termination of a viable pregnancy. Surgical procedures that may use the same methods as such an abortion, but are targeted at a non-viable fetus (i.e. an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage) can’t be treated the same because the fetus has no chance of survival in any case.

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    If only the mother or fetus can be saved, the mother should get to decide, period. If the fetus is going to die anyway, then it should be a no-brainer to abort the fetus. But still, if the mother wishes to not abort the fetes, it is still her choice. I am not sure what kind of pro-life people would be for taking that kind of choice away from the parent. Letting a woman die? it makes you furious.

  • Niemand

    Libby Anne, if you don’t mind my asking, how would you have thought about this case in your pro-life days?

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I didn’t like to think about cases like this to be homes. I would have said that if the baby was going to die anyway, then abortion to save the mother’s life would have been permissible. I still would have seen it has killing a person, murder, and would have been morally quesy about the whole thing. In contrast, if a pregnancy were going to kill a woman but the baby could have lived, I would have said that the mother should sacrifice her life for her child, though I think I still would have said abortion should technically be legal in that case. Again, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about all this.

      • Niemand

        That’s kind of what I would expect from someone who really believed that abortion was killing babies and sincerely worried about “babies” dying. It seems to me that the people who demand that women die in the interests of their fetuses or, especially, when the fetus’ death is inevitable anyway, are no longer even theoretically pro-life, but simply anti-woman. But wondered if I was being too hard on them and there was a way for someone sincerely worried about the death of embryos and fetuses to justify allowing the murder of pregnant women through medical neglect. I have to say your response makes me think that the answer is “probably not”.

  • Christine

    This is nonsense. On the one hand we have a bunch of crazy Floridians and Texans who can “stand their ground” and straight up murder unarmed individuals with handguns that they carry concealed upon their persons because they felt “threatened” and they call it self-defense. On the other hand, we have women who are essentially being murdered by their fetuses and those same crackpots who spend hours lovingly caressing their Glocks telling her to go “die an honorable death.” Where is her right of self-defense?

    So, in other words, men and fetuses have the right to life at all times – even if the fetus is actually in the process of dying. Women, not so much.

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