As most of you know, my husband & I miscarried two weeks ago. As we were on our way to the hospital I begged God that I did not have an ectopic pregnancy–often called “tubal” pregnancy–because I dreaded the decision I would have to make. By God’s grace, my body spontaneously aborted our child. You may find my gratitude strange, but maybe you will better understand as you read.
Basic definitions first: Ectopic pregnancy: A pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus. Most occur inside the fallopian tubes, hence the common name “tubal pregnancy,” but 2% occur in other areas of the woman’s body. The developing baby is guaranteed death and the mother is at extremely high risk for death if the baby is not removed.
According to the CDC, about 100,000 ectopic pregnancies occur annually in the US alone.
From what I understand, the Church has been able to justify surgery that saves the woman’s life, but destroys her child, by using the principle of double effect. Moral theologians argue that it is the fallopian tube that is diseased and needs to be removed and the child will die due to the removal. So the intent is to remove tube to save woman’s life (good) but the result is child’s death (bad). The USCCB states that “In the case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.”(National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services (Washington, DC: NCCB, 1994), 28)
So what is the problem exactly? The problem is that the only permissible “treatment” for ectopic pregnancies causes further damage to the fallopian tubes, thereby greatly increasing the chances that the woman’s life will be endangered again and future children will be killed due to more ectopic pregnancies. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians
Previous ectopic pregnancy becomes a more significant risk factor with each successive occurrence. With one previous ectopic pregnancy treated by linear salpingostomy, the recurrence rate ranges from 15 to 20 percent, depending on the integrity of the contralateral tube.1,9 Two previous ectopic pregnancies increase the risk of recurrence to 32 percent, although an intervening intrauterine pregnancy lowers this rate.
We can look at these numbers, but I KNOW many women who have had ectopic pregnancies. The Catholic women I know have had multiple ones. The non-Catholic ones usually only have one. I know this is purely anecdotal evidence but it does make an impact on me and my skepticism about the Church’s thoughts regarding this issue.
As a woman who has worked in pro-life work most of my life, the whole process of having my own child die, even if it was “only” 9 weeks along was very difficult to say the least. I still am emotionally raw from the event. The thought that I would have to ok any “treatment” that would destroy my child’s life ,whether by surgery or drugs, to save mine was absolutely terrible. I understand that the Church in this regard uses theological math to arrive at conclusion that allows the death of the child, but I don’t buy it. Why? Because the problem is that the child is in the wrong place. Simple as that. What does the Church allow when the child is located on the cervix or other locations of the body 2000 times a year in the US? The mother’s death because we cannot directly take the life of any human being?
Horrible isn’t it? What is a pro-life, Church abiding Catholic mother and father supposed to do? Pray to God it happens to a non-Catholic? In my case, it did not happen to me. And is it selfish for me to pray that it never happens to me?
If my post sounds confused or frustrated, it is. I am hoping Catholic physicians and moral theologians or Catholic mothers and fathers who have experienced this terrible situation write in. I am interested to hear your thoughts just in case my husband & I are ever placed in this situation. At the end of the day, we want to honor God and His will.