When Protecting Scruples Comes Before Women’s Health

Pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother can pose a bit of a problem problem for pro-lifers. Some, such as Live Action’s Lila Rose (who by the way grew up in the same conservative Christian homeschool environment I did), solve this problem by simply denying that pregnancy ever threatens a woman’s life (“Abortions are never medically necessary. Some doctors prescribe abortion as if it’s a treatment for a disease or a problem, but that’s not a solution a truly compassionate and just society should turn to.”). The maternal mortality rate would beg to differ with Lila Rose. In contrast, many pro-lifers accept that life-threatening pregnancy conditions do exist and justify abortions in these cases on the grounds self-defense. Others, however, admit that pregnancies can be life-threatening but argue that abortion is not okay even then because it is never okay to take an innocent life (i.e., that of the embryo or fetus), even in self defense. In this post we’re focusing on that last group.

Beatriz is a 22-year-old El Salvadoran woman with a life threatening pregnancy who was denied an abortion last month even though her fetus was anencephalic and therefore doomed anyway. Abortion is banned in El Salvador, even in the case of the life of the mother. El Salvadoran pro-life groups praised the decision deny Beatriz an abortion: “Once again, Salvadorans have given an example to the entire world that we defend the right to life of all human beings however small, poor, vulnerable or defenceless.” As you may have heard, Beatriz ultimately survived. How? Like this:

Doctors in El Salvador got around the law by waiting until the 26th week of pregnancy and then performing a Cesarean section—a procedure everyone knew would result in the death of the fetus (which it did) but which can be construed as a “birth” instead of an abortion, even though the end result is the same.

With this solution, Beatriz lived and El Salvadoran politicians could live with sound consciences. To me, this is a bit bizarre. The result was the same and everyone knew the result would be the same, but apparently calling it a “birth” rather than an “abortion” made it suddenly okay. Did I mention that this work-around involved gambling with a pregnant woman’s life, and making decisions for her that weren’t in her medical best interests?

Of course, a C-section is significantly more dangerous than an abortion (and especially more dangerous than an earlier abortion, which Beatriz could have had two months ago if she didn’t live in a “pro-life” nation). C-sections are invasive surgical procedures, which are significantly more complicated than early abortions, and pose much higher risks of infection or complication, especially when performed on someone whose health is already compromised by lupus and potential organ failure. They take longer to recover from, and they’re more expensive. Beatriz, thankfully, seems to be doing fine. But she was still legally compelled to undergo a more dangerous, invasive and complicated procedure — and forced to have her body suffer through declining health — so that ideologues could feel better about the intent of a more dangerous procedure that everyone knew would have the exact same outcome as an earlier, safer one.

And now I want to turn to a second example. Up to 1 in every 50 pregnancies is ectopic, meaning that the embryo implants outside of the uterus, usually in one of the Fallopian tubes. This condition is life-threatening to the woman, and the chances of the embryo or fetus surviving are nil. While some ectopic pregnancies may resolve on their own, a significant number will rupture if action is not taken, and rupture can lead to shock and death. If an ectopic pregnancy is discovered early enough, treatment involves taking a drug to stop the production of pregnancy hormones and induce a miscarriage. If it is caught when the pregnancy is more than a few weeks along, surgery will be necessary to remove the pregnancy and part or all of the Fallopian tube. If the ectopic pregnancy ruptures, emergency surgery is needed.

And here is where it gets interesting. The Catholic church does not permit women with ectopic pregnancies to take drugs to end their pregnancies, but it does allow  surgery—if the entire Fallopian tube is removed, rather than just the pregnancy.  This is the same logic that made extremely premature birth, but not abortion, acceptable in Beatriz’ case, even though everyone knew that both would have the same result. Homeschool leader and biblical patriarchy supporter Doug Phillips takes a slightly different line: He is against the drugs and against surgery to remove the pregnancy whether or not the entire tube is removed. His argument is that women should just wait it out and see what happens—in half of all cases it would resolve without a problem, and in the other half the ectopic pregnancy would rupture. Emergency surgery after rupture is fine with Phillips, because the life of the embryo or fetus has already ended and the surgery simply removes its deceased form.

Phillips’ justification, besides the argument that it’s never okay for a mother to kill her child, is that very few women actually die from ruptured ectopic pregnancies today. Further, he argues that there is actually some chance that an ectopic pregnancy can come to term, arguing that there are rare cases of this happening. (In actual fact, while there are a few cases of ectopic pregnancies coming to term, none of these cases involve ectopic pregnancies where the embryo implanted in the Fallopian tubes, which count for 98% of all ectopic pregnancies.) Even if you accept that (in the United States) most women whose ectopic pregnancies rupture survive, think about what’s going on here: Phillips thinks women should have to face a medical situation that is extremely dangerous to their health rather than take the pregnancy-ending drugs or have a surgery to prevent possible rupture, even though the end result for the embryo or fetus is the same.

The feeling I get here is that protecting scruples is more important than protecting women’s health (remember that in all of these cases the pregnancy is doomed anyway, so this isn’t about saving lives). Vision Forum, by the way, is associated with Samaritan Ministries, which serves as a third-party health insurance sharing program for thousands of evangelicals and has officially endorsed Doug Phillips’ position on ectopic pregnancies. Hmm.

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.

  • jmb

    Also relevant, it just came out that the Irish health authorities have been underreporting maternal deaths by a factor of 5. At least.

    freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/06/one-one-one-one/

    • AndersH

      It’s possible that this kind of systemic undercounting happens in more countries, but in light of this revelation I hope academics (or the EU) will take a closer look comparing the maternal mortality rates of Ireland, Malta, and Poland to comparable countries which have freer abortion laws.

  • Sotonohito

    I think in part it’s that they really believe the slippery slope argument. Allow women to have life saving abortions today and tomorrow they’ll be having abortions for fun (because everyone knows that Evil Godless Liberal women have abortions purely for fun).

    • Mishellie

      Yeah but so what….

      • Sotonohito

        Dunno. If I’m right it tends to imply that they are impervious to logic and reason on this issue. And thats a terrible conclusion to reach.

    • Rosa

      like McCain’s airquotes around “life of the mother”.

    • ZeldasCrown

      Well, considering they use the slippery slope argument in every single issue (see gay marriage leads to pedophilia, fear of their religion being made illegal because they aren’t allowed to violate separation of church and state, etc), I’m going to go with yes, they do believe that’s a valid, convincing logical strategy.

      • Sotonohito

        My reaction is the opposite, when I see them going for the slippery slope every time that makes me think that they’ve got no real argument.

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    Nothing says “pro life” like risking the death of a woman to avoid aborting a foetus that has literally no chance of surviving, in any circumstances.

    What a gigantic asshat

    • NeaDods

      Might as well call that whole movement “Babies before Bitches.” Doesn’t matter if the “baby” dies, as long as it does it out of utero.

      • Olive Markus

        Now I want to sticker-bomb the cars of “pro-lifers” with a “Babies before Bitches” bumper sticker. I can’t get that out of my head.

      • NeaDods

        Neither can I, actually!

      • Olive Markus

        It was brilliant!

      • persephone

        Thank you for the new catchphrase. I will put it to good use.

    • The_L1985

      I wanted to kiss the driver I saw in front of me the other day. She had a bumper sticker that said, “If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?”

  • NeaDods

    I’ve tried three times to respond to this, but it always ends up in capslock profanity. That there are so many “pro-life” people and organizations who can look at actual, hurting, women with doomed pregnancies and have the reaction “You don’t exist” or simply “You need to die for my beliefs”…. When people are blown up or stabbed or shot or have planes flown into them for someone else’s beliefs, we get to call it what it is: terrorism. But when it involves a woman’s reproductive tract, suddenly we aren’t even though it’s still people randomly killing others in the name of their belief!

  • onamission5

    It may be that very few women *in suburban and urban areas of industrialized nations who have access to regular medical care* die from ectopic pregnancies these days. That doesn’t justify putting someone’s life at risk. A ruptured fallopian tube is an incredibly painful medical emergency and a woman can bleed out in a matter of minutes. She should wait to see if that happens when there’s virtually no chance of the fetus surviving anyway, and a 50% chance that she could have to risk A) loss of fertility B) excruciating pain C) dangerous emergency surgery D) death? All for some fetal tissue that isn’t going to make it regardless?
    No. I almost lost my mom to a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. It was awful and terrifying and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    • Katty

      I think the excruciating pain should be emphasized here. Even IF the end result when waiting for the ectopic pregnancy to rupture is the same as that of an abortion (dead fetus, woman survives, no loss of fertility) – and it’s not at all guaranteed that this would be the case – the pregnant woman has to go through significantly more pain to reach the same outcome.

      Only someone completely lacking in empathy can so blatantly disregard the pain caused to women when denying them abortions in the case of ectopic pregnancies.

      • Nate Frein

        Only someone completely lacking in empathy can so blatantly disregard the pain caused to women when denying them abortions in the case of ectopic pregnancies.

        But suffering is good for people!

      • Olive Markus

        How do you quote directly from a comment? I haven’t figured that out yet :.

      • Nate Frein

        You can use HTML tags in Disqus. The particular tag you want for formatting quoted text is Blockquote.

      • Olive Markus

        “Only someone completely lacking in empathy can so blatantly disregard the pain caused to women when denying them abortions in the case of ectopic pregnancies.”

        And I present you with exactly that – The entire Catholic Church. No morality and even less empathy.

      • Sophie

        That really is not true, there are a lot of Catholics who do not agree with a lot of the dogma and I know priests who don’t as well. My grandmother nearly died during her first pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia and my mum was born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks which was very early in 1960. My grandmother went on to have another two children but lost 3 pregnancies after 12 weeks. Her priest counselled her and my grandfather to stop trying to get pregnant, and told her her to ask her doctor to put her on the pill for health reasons. I have met other priests like that, who believe that life is worth more than words. The priests who baptised my brothers didn’t care that they was born out of wedlock, and the priest who baptised me knew my father was an atheist. My mother was told not to be daft when she didn’t take communion because she was having sex outside of marriage, the priest said that he very much doubted that God cared.

        I know that the Catholic Church is responsible for some terrible things and it makes me very angry that they are. I no longer identify as Catholic for those reasons. But there are Catholics who do a lot of good, and many who ignore the Dogma. So please don’t put the evil the hierarchy are responsible for on every Catholic.

      • Ohtobide

        Sophie
        I am sure you are right. There are a lot of Catholics who do not accept Catholic dogma and who do a lot of good. But WHY are they still in the Church? As long as they continue to be priests or go to Mass or call themselves Catholics they are supporting an evil organisation.

      • Sophie

        I can’t speak for every Catholic only myself. My reason was mostly familiarity, I knew the rituals and it was comfortable. I know that for some people they stay because they find enough they agree with and like, which outweighs the things they don’t like. For example, I was a big fan of the Labour party when they were in power in the UK, I liked a lot of their policy and I felt they did a lot of good, however I hated their decision to send troops into Afganistan and Iraq. But I still voted for them in the 2010 election. I suppose the same could be appiled to Obama, great on a lot of things but he’s been responsible for more drone attacks than Bush was.

      • Olive Markus

        I spent 2/3 of my life as a Catholic and much of my family still is. I know what it’s like to not believe all of what your own Church believes and does. However, the institution, as a whole, is vile, regardless of how wonderful individual Catholics may be, so my opinion stands. It is the hierarchy that makes the institution what it is and is responsible for the influence it exerts. Individual Catholics doing wonderful things represent how wonderful they are, but they do not represent Catholicism. The hierarchy with all of the power, influence and harmful belief systems does.

        If the core of the Church changes, then I will change my opinion of it. Until then, of course I admit that there are a lot of great Catholics out there – I am the daughter of one of them. It doesn’t change that the Church they participate in is awful.

      • onamission5

        I have not felt the pain my mom went through, but I have seen it as a child, crying in the back seat of the car 30 miles to hospital while my mom, in total agony, did her best to comfort us, hoping we’d make it before she died because there was no emergency ambulance service that far into the country. She lost more than half her blood. It was horrible.

        Something tells me though that even if these regressive fucks had seen what I have seen they still wouldn’t value my mom’s life or wellbeing, they’d just cite statistics and tell me that only a few women die from ectopic ruptures, my mom was almost one of them, and they can live with that.

      • Little Magpie

        (internet-ly hugs) that is terrible.. thank you for being willing to share.

  • AndersH

    It seems very much based on a legalistic, ritual understanding of morality. Abortion is wrong, so it must be wrong at all times – if abortion is the obviously right thing to do for anyone with a heart, then we must call it something else. Debi seems to have much the same opinion about marriage and patriarchy: it must always be right, so when it’s obviously wrong, you have to do everything in your power to legitimize it.

    My morality isn’t based on ritual (performing certain prescribed actions), but on principles of not doing harm and to help others – rules can be a powerful way of reaching that goal, but rules and ritual should never blind us to what we are trying to achieve.

    Of course, if they were more honest about the purposes and consequences of their rules (rather than just saying “it’s in the Bible, God’s word!”), I’d like to think they’d lose a lot of support. I might be naïve in thinking that.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I wrote a post on this very topic a week or so ago. In one of the articles I read on Beatriz, the Health Minister in El Salvador said: “There are cases of girls that come with ectopic pregnancies and they are left to bleed to death because here it’s not allowed to terminate the pregnancy.” My post speculated that if “fetal personhood” legislation ever passed in the US, this was likely what would happen here, too. I am dismayed, but not surprised, to see that some conservative Christians think an ectopic pregnancy should be allowed to progress until the Fallopian tube ruptures. Not only would this be extremely dangerous to women, but I would imagine it would be horrifically painful as well. Forcing women to go through something like that treats us as if we’re subhuman, and as if an embryo has more rights than we do.

  • Scott_In_OH

    Others, however, admit that pregnancies can be life-threatening but argue that abortion is not okay even then because it is never okay to take an innocent life…even in self-defense.

    I think an important part of this worldview is the belief that we don’t absolutely know the embryo/fetus won’t survive, and we don’t absolutely know the woman won’t die. At the end of the post, you get to Doug Phillips, who makes this clear: women need to wait until they need emergency care, because otherwise, they don’t know if God is going to make their case the miracle case.

    In addition to erasing women, which leads to gambling with women’s lives, this argument is another example of making a mockery of statistical knowledge. If we’re not 100% sure a particular outcome will occur, all possible outcomes are equally likely. Or, even more pernicious, the outcome the speaker is hoping for is actually much more likely than all the others.

    You can’t make good policy that way.

    • victoria

      I think you’re absolutely right here, and I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact that the theology (at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned) hasn’t changed materially on this matter since roughly the time of Aquinas (so the late 13th century).

      I think perhaps you *could* have made a case that this approach was acceptably ethical before you had access to modern imaging and diagnostic tools, good natural histories of pregnancy complications, drugs and medicines that can treat an ectopic pregnancy without removing the tube, etc.

      Trying to apply theological principles discerned before the 20th century** to solve medical problems today is what leads to Talmudic solutions like “removing the tube but not the ectopic pregnancy is allowable.”

      ** I use 20th century as the dividing line because 1910 or so is considered the dividing line when medicine started to be more likely to help than hurt an average patient.

    • Baby_Raptor

      It’s also completely erasing the rights of anyone who doesn’t believe his particular brand of religious BS. I don’t believe in the Christian god, nor would I worship him if he did exist. So why should I have to suffer and possibly die because this asshat thinks his god might make a miracle out of me?

  • Eli

    “it is never okay to take an innocent life (i.e., that of the embryo or fetus), even in self defense.”

    Why is the woman never the “innocent life”? Not even married, Christian women who wanted a child are “innocent”? Only the fetus? This always frustrates me…how are they defining that term if even someone who follows all their rules and moral teachings still isn’t “innocent”? As far as I can tell, it’s meaningless.

    • Ibis3

      Because having sex makes you (if you’re a woman) impure and therefore not innocent at all. It doesn’t matter how chaste you are, ultimately, sex is dirty and it’s your fault for tempting him.

      • Eli

        I suppose I shouldn’t even be surprised anymore by the hypocrisy of claiming that wives are both expected to have sex and children with their husbands and are dirty for doing so.

    • Miss_Beara

      They don’t see women as people. They see women as incubators who must be punished for having dirty filthy sex.

    • gimpi1

      It appears to be OK to take innocent life in war, however. Bombs drop on pregnant women, children, the sick and elderly, whatever. And, outside of the Catholic Church which generally tries to be consistent, the most passionate supporters of wars in general tend to be those same religious conservatives who argue that women must take these risks.

      Quick question, “innocent life” advocates: Why is it OK to drop a bomb on a pregnant women in Iraq-when both she and her baby would be fine without the attack, but not OK to preform an emergency chemical abortion on a women undergoing an ectopic pregnancy-when the fetus is doomed in any event?

    • Francis Levesque

      My understanding of their purported reasoning (I’m very much pro-choice, so I’m not supporting this logic, only explaining it) is that it’s not about the embryo or fetus being “innocent” while the pregnant woman isn’t, but rather that the embryo/fetus would be actively killed while the pregnant woman would be passively left to die. And that the woman’s death is tragic, but nothing can justify actively killing an innocent embryo/fetus.

      This is still very flawed reasoning, of course. And I absolutely agree that the underlying rationale is anti-sex and anti-woman, no matter how much they insist (to themselves, as much as to anyone else) that it’s not. After all, isn’t there such thing as a sin of omission? If the woman and embryo will both die without intervention but you can probably save one, is there not a moral obligation to try? And moreover, as Libby Anne said in this blog post, the idea that it’s okay to “give birth” (with full knowledge that the baby will die) or “remove a fallopian tube which is threatening to rupture” but not to “abort” – when the result for the embryo/fetus is *exactly the same* – amounts to risking a woman’s life over mere wordplay.

  • Ariel

    When I was in college, I went through a phase of religious questioning (as it turned out, I wound up transitioning from agnostic to atheist). The three big issues that convinced me that religion was giving people wrong answers and therefore was probably wrong? Gay rights, evolution…and the idea that, given two medical procedures, both resulting in death of the fetus and one much safer for the pregnant woman, the correct choice was the one that let you pretend she wasn’t having an abortion.

    • Gillianren

      But you seem to be assuming that all religion makes people think that. Yes, some does, but I’ve known atheists opposed to gay rights and abortion and who don’t accept evolution. The problem is human stupidity, not any particular aspect of it.

      • Ibis3

        Most religion is anti-sex, misogynist, anti-homosexuality, and anti-science.

        Most people, once divorced from religious rationales for supporting those positions, don’t.

      • Gillianren

        And a lot of religious people don’t espouse those positions, and insisting that they do doesn’t make them look wrong.

      • Nate Frein

        You’re misrepresenting the position.

        Ibis is saying that most religion is ” anti-sex, misogynist, anti-homosexuality, and anti-science”, not most religious people. The first statement is true…pretty much every religion in the world include teachings that advance those negative traits. That people cherry pick around those teachings is irrelevant.

      • Gillianren

        I disagree. There are plenty of religions that expressly state, for example, that evolution is true. (Like the Catholics; people who claim to be Catholic and don’t believe in evolution are, in fact, the ones cherry-picking!) There are plenty of religions that are in favour of gay rights and open about sexuality, though admittedly far more of the former than the latter. And if the majority of religious people don’t have a problem with sex before marriage, there’s a limit to how much I think it matters that their religion disagrees.

      • Nate Frein

        I disagree. There are plenty of religions that expressly state, for example, that evolution is true. (Like the Catholics; people who claim to be Catholic and don’t believe in evolution are, in fact, the ones cherry-picking!)

        Oooookay. First off, all religion is anti-science to some degree or another because all religion makes claims that are either unfalsifiable or are contrary to empirical evidence.

        You specifically cite the Catholic church. Well, sure. They accept evolution. Big whoop when the pope is saying that condoms cause aids. There’s lots of anti-science nonsense in Catholic tradition.

        Further, from an American perspective, when half of Americans believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of religion here is anti-science.

        There are plenty of religions that are in favour of gay rights and open about sexuality, though admittedly far more of the former than the latter.

        Define “plenty”. “Plenty” does not mean “most”.

        And if the majority of religious people don’t have a problem with sex before marriage

        [Citation needed]

      • Gillianren

        Is the current Pope saying that condoms cause AIDS? I hadn’t heard that. Let’s hear your citation, please.

        In addition, you are conflating religions with religious people; the largest denomination in the US is Catholicism, and a lot of American Catholics are going against Church teaching on evolution just as they go against it on birth control. Just in the opposite direction. Most Jewish denominations accept evolution. The Methodists support evolution. The Presbyterians, interestingly, say it’s none of the Church’s business and is an issue for scientists. They also say it’s not incompatible with religious belief. Most Buddhists are fine with evolution, as are most Hindus, many Muslims, and so forth. Studies have been done; while on the ground level, individuals may oppose evolution, most of the major denominations in the US are accepting of it, according to studies done by the Pew Research Center. At bare minimum, they say it isn’t in conflict.

        As to evidence that a majority of religious people don’t have a problem with sex before marriage, let’s start with the fact that every study done on the subject shows that they’re having it. Even limiting “religious” to “Christian,” which we shouldn’t do yet too many people do, 78.4% of Americans say they’re Christian. (Again according to Pew.) However, studies show that almost all Americans (as many as 95%) have premarital sex. Oh, I’m willing to admit that probably a fair number of those are “Well, it’s okay for me” types, but it seems unlikely that even a majority of them are.

        The Episcopal Church has an official liturgy for gay ceremonies which is a bit separate-but-equal but which is still accepting of the idea of gay relationships. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows individual congregations to make the decision about whether or not to allow gay marriage. The only major US branch of Judaism that is opposed to gay rights is, unsurprisingly, Orthodox. The Presbyterians have actually campaigned in favour of “civil unions,” which again, separate-but-equal but better than damning them all. There are religious leaders fighting for gay rights, but they’re overshadowed by idiots who think they have an exclusive right to how God should be seen.

      • Nate Frein

        So, because people are bad at following their religion makes the nasty teachings they ignore (instead of, say, fixing) all better?

      • Gillianren

        They’re working on fixing them. And in many cases, their leadership is not opposed to what they’re doing. Did you know that some religious leaders actually filed briefs in favour of gay marriage with the US Supreme Court.

      • Beutelratti

        Would they fix the Bible though? As long as the nastiness is in the Bible there are always going to be Christians bringing it up.

      • Ariel

        I was trying to work out whether the atheists or the Christians were more likely to be more or less right. I think “a majority of Christians oppose gay marriage, a majority of nonreligious people support it” (which, according to this slide, was true in the early 2000s) is good evidence that religion makes people more likely to believe things that are false, and that in turn is good evidence that the Christians are wrong and the nonreligious are right. None of that requires that I believe *all* atheists support gay marriage, just that *more atheists than Christians* support gay marriage.

      • Baby_Raptor

        The problem is, if god were really up there, and he really cared as much as the bible claims he does…He would stop crap like this. He wouldn’t let his followers kill people in his name. So ultimately, whether all religious people believe X thing or not doesn’t matter, because religious people aren’t the thing being tainted. The god is.

      • Gillianren

        I believe in a noninterventionist deity. The Godhead I believe in may not even know we exist, much less care what we do. Not all religious people see God in the same way.

        Note that what I am not saying is “no religious people are the problem.” What I am saying is “not all religious people are the problem.” (In part, because I am not the problem. I am religious, but I have never been anti-choice, anti-evolution, or anti-freedom to live opposed to the dogma of my own faith. I was fine with gay rights from the time I knew what it meant and have gotten actively supportive since then.) Also “some nonreligious people are also the problem, so rather than blaming religion, let’s look at the other issues.”

  • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

    Once upon a time, when I was vehemently pro-life, I believed this way. I believed that abortion shouldn’t be an option even to save the life of the mother. I don’t think I ever fully fleshed out my reasoning, but it went something like this. Good mothers would choose to die to try to save their child (and even if the child is “doomed” there is a tiny possibility of a miracle, so you should always try to save the child), Good mothers don’t need a law against abortion to save their lives, because they would do the right thing anyway. And bad, selfish mothers who would choose to abort the child to save their own lives don’t deserve to live because they are bad and selfish, so we do need a law to prevent them from aborting the child. I don’t think I would have ever put it in those words, but that was the underlying thought process. I am now deeply, deeply ashamed that I ever thought that way, and I’m passionately pro-choice, but I thought I could share a little bit of the thought process that I had (and probably deep down many other pro-lifers have).

    • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

      I believed the same but once I started doing thought experiments, putting myself in those positions, I had to change my mind. Thanks for sharing these thoughts

    • Mishellie

      Thank you for your honesty in telling us this. So many pro life people claim this isn’t how they think… I think they just haven’t thought it out. And If they had, they were in denial.

    • Fanraeth

      Honestly, when I was anti-abortion, I had little to no reasoning for my beliefs. Basically I believed it because it was what I was raised to believe and I never went past babies=good, abortion=bad.

    • Valde

      thank you thank you for that

  • Saraquill

    If fetuses are considered children, and it’s “never okay for a mother to kill her child,” what does that man think of miscarriages?

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      Probably “God’s Mysterious Ways™”.

    • The_L1985

      Manslaughter.

    • Beutelratti

      Don’t even go there … there are actually people who want miscarriages investigated. After all, those evil women might have done something to induce them, making it manslaughter or even murder.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Ugh, yes, it does happen. One woman who had a stillborn baby was arrested for drug use while still recovering in the hospital and charged with child endangerment and murder.

        The best part? Cocaine use is not correlated with stillbirth at all. African-American mother and poverty, on the other hand, are. She was basically arrested for being poor and black.

        This isn’t a totally isolated incident, though it is still fairly rare. These are new, “cutting-edge” cases of child endangerment and fetal protection laws. We have to fight against them now, though, so they don’t become seen as acceptable implementations of the laws.

      • Olive Markus

        I’m horrified by the idea. It is definitely happening in El Salvador and possibly other places (I haven’t done the research). Women are in prison for miscarriages and pregnancy complications.

        http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/03/21/tragedy-in-el-salvador-church-supported-laws-lead-to-death-mother-two-jailed-afte/

  • Jill

    As someone who had two ectopics (one in each tube) and desperately wanted a pregnancy, discussions on this topic are at once heartbreaking and sickening. The idea that someone could have forced me to endure those heartbreaking situations any longer on idealogical grounds, at the risk of my very life, enrages me to the point that I want to start breaking things with a heavy blunt object that I can swing.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      I’ve had one ectopic and one miscarriage, and I’m right with you on that. I don’t think the drugs were available yet at the time I had the ectopic, so I was faced with surgery as the only option. If some priest or preacher had showed up then to tell me that their superstitions should take precedence over saving my life, the next thing that they would have to do is duck.

      • Jill

        Yes, these issues are close to my heart. I’ve been pregnant five times for one live birth, so I understand how hard it all is even when you really really want the pregnancy. At the very least, I did have control of my reproductive situation, probably owing largely to the fact I’m Canadian and we don’t have the same degree of meddling here (nor as much influence from the evangelical Christian right). But I’ve had to make some very hard decisions – including selective reduction for anencephaly of a twin, and I am thankful every day that some ideologue didn’t try to interfere. The advice given to me by my doctors was based on what was in my MEDICAL best interests – not on some draconian law determined by someone who hardly even regards me as a person and definitely doesn’t regard my life as important. So I am following the situation in the USA very closely, because these more and more brazen attempts at restricting women’s reproductive healthcare down there make me SO angry, and we are close enough that I am sometimes worried that some of the American influence might trickle across the border.

      • Olive Markus

        Unfortunately, I think with the expansion of Fox “News” into Canada, the influence is already spreading.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        That got shut down, actually. Canada requires TV news to meet certain benchmarks of impartiality to call themselves “news”, and Fox couldn’t meet them. So Fox could be on TV as Fox Opinion, but not Fox News.

      • Olive Markus

        Hurray!!! I’m happy to hear that! :D

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Yeah, it was good news. Fox was very whiny about it lol.

      • gimpi1

        YOU GO, CANADA! There is a difference between news and opinion, and Fox has danced over the line, aided and abetted by the unwillingness of the government to enforce regulations.

        I don’t blame the government entirely, however. If they actually tried to enforce the rules regarding news vs information, the howls about conservative folks being “discriminated against” would be heard on the moon.

      • Jackie C.

        With an ectoptic though you may already be heartbroken from a lost pregnancy and your hormones are out of whack, would you be wise enough to defend yourself or want to get sucked into their insanity? I was lucky enough to have a nurse mother and an husband who would have done the swinging, but how many pregnant women in a health crisis get sucked into the crazy?

    • Jackie C.

      I had my first ectopic in the late 80s – ruputured, almost bled to death. Horrific pain. I had 3 more in the other tube. One destroyed by a drug, one removed and the last destroyed the tube amd I once again nearly bled to death. No reason they could find. But I never thought of them as abortions until recently when I realized that other people did. Okay, the first and last I almost died and the tubes did rupture so I get a pass on those, but the other two – to know some people think of me and talk of people like me in those horrible terms is awful. Not that anyone deserves the judgment – it’s not our place to make someone else’s decisions anyway and as a thoughtful Christian who has researched scriptures, I’m not convinced a fetus is a person anyway.

      The point here is that at the time – late 80s and early 90s – no one in my Christian communities ever suggested I was getting an abortion. If they had, I might have been influenced to avoid the drug or wait til the tube burst. I’m lucky my doctors and Christian community considered me first.

      • Olive Markus

        My entire town (hours from other towns in all directions) is made up of Catholic Hospitals and their affiliated medical centers. I’m actually terrified of the idea of being pregnant here!!

        My mom had an ectopic pregnancy, and nearly died after giving birth to both me and my sister. I feel so strongly about these issues, as the idea that somebody would simply let my mom die, leaving behind a family who genuinely couldn’t go on without her, makes me so incredibly sick. Or, as you said, would have had an “elective” “abortion”, selfishly, when she is the most selfless mother I can ever, ever imagine. She had to have the tube removed, because no other options existed, but she certainly didn’t want to lose her organs!

        She had absolutely no attachment to the “thing” that was lodged in her fallopian tube, and certainly – not in a million years – would have chosen to die for it and leave us behind. She loves, adores and would die in a moment for us, but not for a clump of cells she didn’t even know about. But yet Catholics and pro-lifers seem to think that if a woman doesn’t want to do that, she should want to! So they think they have the right to make the decision for her. ACKKK… Seriously. I’m getting so angry today :(.

      • Jill

        We also have Catholic hospitals, but for whatever reason the official church teachings don’t have any bearing on reproductive health advice being given here. Because of that, until recently I did not think that anyone really took the Catholic dictum about removing tubes seriously (until reading the Phillips article, which I had previously seen). I did lose a tube, but it was because my first EP was too far along for methotrexate and I had persistent tissue so I ended up having surgery twice (first to preserve the tube, and ultimately to remove it). For the second one, I had two treatments of methotrexate.

      • Jill

        Your experience is really heartbreaking to read about, Jackie, and it must be even more upsetting for you to read the type of outright dismissal that people like Phillips are dishing out.

        My ectopics were fortunately caught early so did not come to rupture. Nonetheless I did lose a tube, so it was significant enough. Certainly it makes me want to start bashing things when I read articles like the Phillips one.

        I knew about the Catholic position about removing the tube vs. salpingostomy/expectant management/methotrexate, but I didn’t really take it seriously until recently, when it became clear to me that, at least in the US, it is actually being applied. Like you, I didn’t realize other people thought of EP treatment as abortion. And Libby’s post connects how these “ethics” are related to the recent situation of Beatriz in El Salvador.

        My worst sin isn’t even EP termination, it was selective termination of an anencephalic twin. That would definitely have been viewed as abortion by hardliners, and I did view it that way too. However, I have no guilt. For me the decision was a no brainer (the term might be inappropriate here but I can’t think of another). It was horrible to be in that situation and horrible to go through that procedure, but my doctors and I had no legal hurdles to jump through, it was a choice based only on the medical considerations. Put myself and my other baby’s lives in more danger for a baby that has no chance at life? There is no choice, the correct answer is no. It should have been that way for Beatriz, too, and it sounds like if it was up to her, it would have been.

        Ultimately, I feel it’s also about more than just my right to have an “abortion” for medical reasons. I did want a pregnancy but many people don’t, and their reasons for termination are just as legitimate as mine were (poverty, bad relationships, bad timing). The religious freedom of the hard liners should not include the freedom to impose their religion on someone else. That’s why this trend in the US in the past few years of clawing back on abortion access makes me so incredibly angry.

    • Rosa

      It’s also tremendously anti-baby, since at least in the US most women get ectopics when they’re not using birth control because they want to conceive.

      I had an ectopic that we caught so early (the burst of pregnancy hormones gave me horrible cyst pain, so I went to the doctor right away) we didn’t even know where it was; just that my body was making pregnancy hormones, but not ramping them up at a rate of a regular pregnancy, and ultrasound showed nothing in my uterus.

      So it was treated pretty painlessly with methotrexate without any damage and I got pregnant again less than a year later and had a child. “Wait and see” would have endangered me and my fertility and maybe prevented the birth of my son.

  • Flora

    I’ve participated in surgeries to help women with ectopic pregnancies. They come into the hospital with agonizing pain. One surgery was for a young woman with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy – we went in and there was blood everywhere. The reason women survive ruptures is because we can go in and stop the bleeding. The location of the uterus means that it is impossible to put pressure on a bleed to stop it without going in surgically, ending the pregnancy, and removing any of the damaged tissue. Without these medically emergent “abortion” surgeries, these women would slowly bleed out and die, even if they didn’t go into septic shock.

    I wish these pro-life could see how much pain these women are in (physically and emotionally), how much blood there can be, how much damage there can be to the ovary and fallopian tubes, and how the “baby” is a clump of indistinguishable tissue, often walled off into a cyst by the woman’s body. Last year, I had surgery for an ovarian cyst that was threatening my ovary – I can’t imagine being denied that surgery until my ovary had actually died because somebody thought my cyst was sacred.

    • Gillianren

      I don’t think a lot of them care about the pain the women are in. I do believe that most of them do, but not the leadership.

      • Olive Markus

        There is a huge part of me that is convinced that not only do they not care, but they believe it is the way it should be.

      • Kevin Alexander

        Sad to say but cruelty is a foundation of human nature. They rationalize it by saying that they didn’t cause the suffering so it’s OK to enjoy it.

      • Niemand

        Some care. Specifically, they’re vicious sadists who like seeing women in pain and would consider a woman in pain and distress from an ectopic pregnancy prime jerk off material.

    • Miss_Beara

      But pain and suffering brings us women closer to god…

      or something.

      • Beutelratti

        Don’t forget that we deserve it because Eve ate an apple.

        God obviously did not only include labour and painful child birth, but also the risks of pregnancies in his divine punishment … and all that because Eve craved vitamins.

  • A Reader

    So my life is worth nothing to these people?? I can at least see where they’re coming from if the pregnancy isn’t high-risk (even though any pregnancy can be dangerous), but when the fetus is doomed anyway, what’s the point? I’m a person, not breeding stock. Grrrrrrrrrrr

  • smrnda

    I don’t see how something being *rare* somehow makes it something you can ignore. Even if its rare that there are no other options than abortion to save a woman’s life, by using that as a rationale to be anti-choice you’re just saying “We’re putting principles first, and a small % of women will just die so that we can be ideologically consistent.” I wish they’d phrase it that way and at least be honest.

    On Doug Phillips and the ‘we really don’t know FOR SURE the fetus won’t survive” – it isn’t his life on the line that he’s gambling with, so its a zero cost bet for him to make.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I’ve noticed that pro-lifers also like to tell stories about how a pregnancy was going badly and doctors said there was no way the fetus would survive anyway, and recommended abortion, but the woman refused and by some rare miracle, the baby turned out healthy and everything is great.

    Sure, that can happen every once in a while, and it’s great! Yay, the baby was born healthy, that’s wonderful. BUT THEN somehow these rare anecdotes get turned into a weapon against women with life-threatening pregnancies, like “hey sometimes the doctors are wrong and the baby is born healthy- you should just wait and trust God instead of making these big decisions.”

    • Niemand

      Of course, the converse story also happens. A young woman becomes pregnant, wants an abortion, is talked out of it partly with the argument that she is perfectly healthy and everything will be just fine and she dies during pregnancy or delivery. Somehow the “pro-life” movement is less fond of sharing that side of the story.

    • LizBert

      I really question a lot of those stories. Largely because we only hear one side, the side with the agenda. There are far fewer stories where people were told that their pregnancy was doomed, chose to carry to term, and watched their child die moments or days after birth. I think this may be because after living that reality you no longer want to turn pregnancy into a political statement.

      • Rosa

        or possibly because being pro-choice or pro-abortion gets your life threatened and your children terrorized in a lot of places. Anti-abortion terrorism has been very effective in this country.

        In places where women talk anonymously – like some online forums – you hear late-term abortion, miscarriage, and newborn loss stories. Unfortunately those places are usually highly politically segregated, so we each only hear one side’s first-person stories.

  • Rootboy

    Note that the Catholic Church made a saint of a woman who refused an abortion to save her own life: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gianna_Beretta_Molla. (Though in this case she did give birth and the baby survived and grew up without a mother). This is the “selfless”, “moral” choice they believe all women in similar circumstances should make.

    • The_L1985

      To be fair, the RCC tends to saint people for extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice in the service of God…but yeah. They hold saints up as people to emulate. I utterly refuse to die for the sake of a pregnancy.

  • Niemand

    Re Beatriz’s c-section, I’d also point out that she now has a scarred uterus and abdomen. That means that if she does get pregnant again-and I hope she’s agreed to permanent sterilization and someone’s done it, but don’t know for sure-her risk now includes all those she previously had PLUS higher risk of uterine rupture and requirement of a repeat section. If she ever requires any intra-abdominal procedures from appendectomy to colonoscopy they will be more complicated and painful because of the pre-existing scar tissue. In short, she has taken permanent damage from this “pro-life” move. And her baby died all the same, possibly after suffering more for being forced to breath on its own and attempt to eat when its brain wasn’t really set up to do even these basic functions correctly. Fortunately, as these things go, its brain is probably so malformed that it can’t actually suffer much. Thank cthulu.

  • Amtep

    It’s odd that the same people who believe in miracles also put such limits on God’s power. As if God could intend to create a miracle and then be thwarted by what we humans choose to do. “Hey I was GOING to save that ectopic baby but then you went and cut it out! What am I supposed to do now?”

    I mean, we’re talking about the same God who got Sarai pregnant in her 90th year and got Mary pregnant without the intervention of a man at all. Does God really need us to help things along?

    If we’re going to worry about cysts in the fallopian tubes because God MIGHT turn them into babies, why aren’t we worried about other things God might turn into babies? For example, what about kidney stones? Every year we violently destroy thousands of kidney stones by tearing them apart with ultrasound, with NO THOUGHT given to the possibility that God might have wanted to turn them into babies. How can we allow that?

    In fact, I propose a new regulation for men: kidney stones are to remain untreated until they cause excruciating pain, at which point they may be removed by removing the whole kidney. (We don’t need this regulation for women because we all know He would use ectopic pregnancies instead.)

  • Anon

    People like this make me reconsider whether my joking ‘the only people who should be allowed to vote on whether women should be allowed abortions are women and doctors’ should actually be a joke (although it’s not really a joke, more of a ‘something I say to piss people who are espousing ridiculously pro-life sentiments off’).
    As much as I think that the man involved in the conception should be allowed to have some say in whether his child lives I can’t give them as much weight as the person who has to house the baby for nine months and go through either a dangerous operation or a lot of pain to bring the baby into the world.

  • Alex T.

    Dear Doug Phillips,

    Your salvation is not determined by my decision to end a pregnancy, life-saving or otherwise.
    Thanks.

    Thinking
    like his enrages me. He literally expects women to suffer and die for
    his beliefs. Oh, sure, not many women will die, but he is willing to let
    women die so that he can feel good about himself. He believes that my
    life is less valuable than his ability to feel good about himself. And
    quite honestly, I’m not sure why his self worth is tied up in banning
    all abortions.

    Whatever your beliefs on abortion are, you have
    no right to tell me that your feeling of moral superiority is enough
    justification for my death.

  • Marta L.

    I found myself as outraged at this whole situation as everyone else whose comments I’ve read (admittedly not all). It is frustrating that a woman because she had sex, even married sex, which the Bible regards as a duty of spouses to each other, the woman is no longer an innocent life in need of protection. The lack of care for the mother’s well-being, the frankly bizarre loopholes, etc. – they make my blood boil. But as a philosophy grad student one thing I’m trained to do is set aside my emotion and try to look at things carefully. And with all due respect, I think Libby Anne may be making a controversial assumption here. Please don’t take the rest of this comment as a defense of this idiotic, demeaning policy. :-)

    Libby Anne notes that abortion and early caesarean delivery have the same results, and we can predict fairly easily in this case that they’ll turn out the same way, so she asks why we think one is okay and the other isn’t. But this assumes that results are all that matters. But lots of people think that’s not the case – intentions, or even basic character, may matter quite a deal as well. For instance, say you’re working in a store that’s being robbed. The gunman is waving the gun around and has already shot several people, and you shoot him to save everyone else in the room. That may seem tragic but not bad – you did what you had to do to save a whole bunch of people. Now, imagine it turns out that the store clerk was actually in on the store heist and he shot his accomplice so the man wouldn’t be captured and give him away to the cops. Exact same result – the gunman dies, everyone else in the store survives – but the motive isn’t to save them, it’s to save yourself from going to jail. Do we honestly think this wouldn’t affect whether the person who shot the gunman acted rightly or not?

    I personally think motives matter a great deal, too. The problem here is that the Catholic theologians and the El Salvadoran politicans aren’t doing a good job of working in this framework. For instance, there’s a Catholic bioethicist I teach to my philosophy students who argues early abortions are morally acceptable after rapes because the intent is to restore the woman’s bodily autonomy after an assault, not to kill a developing fetus. Catholics have a long history of working with the doctrine of double effect, and that approach is very influential in ethics, secular and Catholic alike. Of course, it could still be wrong and more commonly it can be misused. But I don’t think it’s so bizarre to say, just because two actions will have the same effect, their moral status has to be the same.

    Ironically, it’s this whole framework that makes me more than happy to say the El Salvador government was wrong to make Beatriz wait – early medication or surgery would have the intent o saving her life and the second, unintended but predictable consequence of killing the fetus. Since the intent matters, that’s still okay.

    • Marta L.

      Btw: I’m not a mother and have never had to deal with ectopics. So I’m completely incapable of commenting on the human aspect of this topic, and my heart breaks to read the stories downthread of people who have endured them. Just a sometimes-philosophy instructor trying to give another perspective on why the end result may not be the only thing that matters. I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m ignoring the real suffering so many of you have gone through because I focused on the side I do know something about. :-S

  • Rachel Heston-Davis

    I’ve heard it argued before that babies should be prioritized over mothers because the mothers have already had some good years of living and the babies haven’t yet.

    Even back when I was a lot more conservative than I am today, that line of reasoning sounded incredibly stupid to me, and like an excuse people made up to make themselves feel better. The first time I ever heard a pastor suggest that abortion to save the mother might be okay, he pointed out that that mother could have other kids and a husband that need her, a job where she’s making a difference, parents who love her–or perhaps just a husband, who will lose his wife AND the chance to have any family at all if she dies.

    I always thought that was a much more rational way to view the situation.


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