Something that isn’t talked about enough is that abortion bans overreach. That is, most abortion bans say “abortion is banned except in cases X, Y and Z.” But in practice, the very act of banning abortion ensures that for many women safe, legal abortion will be unavailable – even if they fall into one of the exceptions written into the abortion ban.
Reproductive Health Matters volume 10, issue 19 (not online, sorry), has a report on the results of Poland’s abortion ban (Poland banned abortion in 1993, except in cases of rape, a threat to the health or life of the mother, or a severely damaged fetus). The Polish abortion ban is fairly similar to what pro-lifers in the USA have proposed, except that American pro-lifers are opposed to health exemptions.
The law didn’t measurably reduce the number of Polish abortions; it did, however, force hundreds of thousands of women to obtain illegal abortions (and it drove the price of abortions way up). However, some women who need abortions for health reasons don’t have the money or connections to obtain an illegal abortion, or cannot safely have an abortion outside of a legal hospital setting. The result, of course, is that women are hurt.
The article contains other examples. One HIV positive woman, Maria, “obtained written confirmation from a specialist that pregnancy presented a danger to her health.” But hospital after hospital refused to treat her, some explaining that they simply would not perform an abortion under any circumstance.
This is by no means a problem unique to Poland. In the United States, the so-called “Abortion Non-Discrimination Act”, if it becomes law, allows health professionals (not just doctors, but also nurses, insurance agents, pharmacists, etc) to refuse to perform abortions, regardless of the consequences to the woman’s life or health. XX, Feministing and The Well-Timed Period (here and here) have more about this law. From The Well-Timed Period:
The Bill’s title, Abortion Non-Discrimination, is disingenuous. This is a Refusal-to-Treat Bill. Incidentally, being a health care professional and refusing to treat your patients (or issue a referral) are incompatible. Up to now I also thought refusal-to-treat was malpractice. Apparently, if the patient is a woman, not so much.
Rivka at Respectful of Otters tells the horrifying story of an American whose preborn baby died in utero at 19 weeks. The safest procedure for removing the baby’s corpse – dilation and extraction – has been widely under attack by pro-lifers who call this and other procedures “partial birth abortion.”
She walked around for a week, bleeding, with her dead baby inside of her, because the virulent political controversy around dilation and extraction meant that no one was willing to provide her with proper medical care. This could happen to me. This could happen to any woman.
And keep in mind – that’s just the result of political and social pressure on doctors not to perform “partial birth” procedures. If the ban actually became law, obtaining even a legal D&X abortion will become all but impossible.
To be clear – nothing about the “partial-birth” abortion ban makes it illegal to remove an already-dead fetus using the D&X procedure. But it doesn’t matter, because the effect of the ban (if it ever becomes good law) will be to make the procedure unavailable even in cases where a D&X is undeniably legal and desperately needed.
One last thought about the case of the Polish woman blinded because she could not obtain an abortion. At least in Poland, it’s in theory (if not in practice) legal for a woman to have an abortion to save herself from going blind. In the USA, pro-lifers are opposed to health exemptions, so if they had their way not even preventing blindness would be a good enough reason to get an abortion.
This makes me think of the pysician who heals the enemy, because it is their responsibility to heal without determining the value of human life. Although in some cases it makes people understandably very angry, I think in general it something we are glad to have a standard to uphold and proud of our society for doing this (brand new notion that goes all the way back to the Greeks… who says the the right wing is traditional!)
Thank you for posting so clearly what I have always believed to be the case. It’s not as if the standards of “rape, incest,” etc. are going to be applied by some fair and impartial judge in the sky — they will require vulnerable women (and men) to badger and beg even in cases of true necessity. I was in this circumstance once, and I was given counseling and choices that everyone should have, and I can imagine the opposite scenario and who, really, will suffer.
My dad was a pharmacist and I would like to take a baseball bat to every pharmacist alive who thinks his conscience requires him to refuse medicine to his patients. Think about this: If the pharmacist doesn’t want to fill the script, okay, maybe he’s exercising his conscience, but if he won’t make a referral, or destroys the script, he’s going the extra mile and exercising his patient’s conscience. Only women would ever be treated like children this way.
Definitely very scary. Of course doctors and hospitals are going to turn women seeking abortions away even if they qualify under an exemption. Why take the chance that a prosecutor and a jury will see it differently and thus you might lose your license or end up in jail? Who cares about the rights of the woman? No one. No prosecutor is going to come in and send the doctor to jail or fine the hospital for not performing the procedure. Sigh.
Hey, it’ll be great if these non-discrimination acts go through! Then, I can take a job as a corrections officer and then say that it’s against my religious beliefs to help confine certain people. Or take a job as a construction worker but say that it’s against my religious beliefs to build certain buildings. Or take a job as a police officer but say that it’s against my religious beliefs to enforce certain laws. Or take a job as a firefighter and say it’s against my religious beliefs to fight certain fires. Yeah. That would work. You’d get fired in a second.
The job of a pharmacist is to dispense medications. The job of a doctor is to perform medical procedures. If dispensing medication conflicts with your religious beliefs, DON’T BECOME A FREAKIN’ PHARMACIST! If performing medical procedures conflicts with your religious beliefs, DON’T BECOME A FREAKIN’ DOCTOR! You don’t see Christian Scientists becoming doctors, do you? And if one did go to medical school and then explained on the first day of his or her internship that his or her religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him or her to perform any medical procedures or prescribe any drugs, but could help with paperwork, do you think that would be okay? No! If you can only do part of a job because of your religious beliefs, DON’T TAKE THAT JOB! Jeesh.
The First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to practice their religion without government interference or censorship. It doesn’t guarantee protection from the consequences of making choices incompatible with your religious beliefs, like taking jobs whose duties your beliefs will not allow you to fulfill. Hell, under this idea of “non-discrimination,” I should be able to become a Catholic priest. I’m an atheist, so, of course, I wouldn’t do anything against my religious beliefs, like perform the Eucharist or hear confessions, but they can’t discriminate against me, right?
Mooglar, I wondered too why these people became doctors, pharmacists, etc. (even some OB-GYNs don’t like to prescribe BC pills, even though they have many uses — BC pills are a target here, too), but there is a push lately for right-wingers to enter the medical and law positions precisely for these purposes.
We would revert to the pre-Roe state, where very wealthy women would take overseas vacations or go to exclusive referral-only, cash-only clinics, middle-class women would head to Mexico for the back-alley option, and poor women would use sticks, lysol, and throw themselves down stairs.
The problem already exists in the US in regards to women who have major health problems and are on medicaid. Louisiana had a woman with congestive heart failure, on a heart transplant list (you have to be pretty non-functional to get listed), being bumped OFF the list for being pregnant, being too high risk to have a clinic abortion in her hometown, and being told that she couldn’t have an abortion in her state-run hospital because she didn’t have the greater than 50% risk of immediate death required for abortion to be allowed at a public hospital. Frankly, there are docs out there, and prosecutors out there, who would state that absence of cardiac rhythm for 5 minute, 59 sec. is less than 50% risk of immediate death. (6 minutes usually considered point of no return).
Yes, indeed, I had a friend develop cardiac arrhythmia when she was pregnant, although they were (fortunately) able to control it with drugs and she was able to continue with the pregnancy. The Louisiana woman was able to get an abortion in Texas, in a private hospital that donated the care to her. I think she did sue the state but I’m not sure what came of it.
Given the cost of air travel, probably, middle class women could go to London or Amsterdam for safer abortions than are offered in Mexico. Remember that ship that went around to countries like Ireland offering care that was illegal in the woman’s home country? I suppose someone could make a lot of money, setting up a ship in Jamaica or Bermuda. It’s sick, sick, sick to think about.
Or, you know, Canada, where abortion doesn’t seem to be going away, either. Closer and cheaper than London.
Amp said: The safest procedure for removing the baby’s corpse – dilation and extraction – has been widely under attack by pro-lifers who call this and other procedures “partial birth abortion.”
Where do pro-lifers blanketly call this procedure “partial birth abortion”? I’ve not found this to be the case.
Well Jen, why don’t you come up with some pro-life resources that call it something else, since your direct experience tells you that it isn’t so I assume it’s based on something.
From Wikipedia’s entry on Intact Dialation & Extraction: “This procedure is referred to as ‘partial-birth abortion’ in the media and among pro-life groups.”
Here’s a pro-life page referring to D&X as ‘partial birth abortion.’
Here’s another. “A more recently developed method here is the partial birth abortion, also called ‘brain suction’ or ‘D&X’ methods.”
And another. “The term ‘partial-birth abortion’ describes a late term abortion procedure also known as Dilation and Extraction (D & X).”
I could go on all day…
A la Women on Waves? http://www.womenonwaves.org/ The cookie didn’t crumble too well for them though.
If someone set up a ship off the coast of the U.S. offering abortions, someone would blow it up.
Amp – your citations, which are either from 4 years or more ago or are referencing material back from 1992, do not show anyone claiming that removal of a dead fetus is still abortion and should therefore be illegal. The reason these articles were defining the procedure as abortion seems to be (from your articles) because Dr. Martin Haskell, an abortionist, was teaching as such. Scientific progress has been constant and political tides have changed since these conversations.
You can, of course, believe what you want, but the Catholic Church does not feel that way (per information I receive regularly from diocese bulletins and casual reading of various bishops’ comments. I am guessing that if we crazy Catholics don’t take that stance, other, less “passionate” pro-lifers feel similarly. You can attack my assumption all you wish; however, I am probably actually spending much more time with pro-lifers than you. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.
But Jen, examples, please. There are so many pro-life sites, surely, you could direct us to a few?
And btw, I realize that removing a dead fetus is not considered to be an abortion by anyone, but the procedure required to remove the fetus is the same procedure that is used for some later abortions and if it isn’t taught because it can be used for abortion, then it won’t be available even if it is needed for reasons that everyone accepts as totally valid and necessary. That was Amp’s point, and it’s an extremely good one.
Dear Barbara, there are sites, I’ve read some of them. I also have literature at home. Honestly, I’m being lazy at the moment. The realization that we both came to was that removing a dead fetus is not considered abortion by everyone. It doesn’t sound like I need literature if you are willing to concede that on your own. Using Amp’s references, we can see that the procedure has been considered an abortion procedure by both sides (in the context of discussions on abortion). Amp chose to make it sound like the pro-lifers view is different in a way that causes harm or gross inconvenience to miscarrying mothers. Should abortion become somehow illegal (which I don’t foresee), new discussions/dissertations/etc should reflect the fact that most people aren’t opposed to the removal of the dead.
Jen, I misunderstood what you meant. It’s true that the D&X procedure (which is used on both living and dead preborns) has been called “partial birth abortion.” I didn’t mean to imply that pro-lifers would purposely ban this procedure when applied to already-dead preborns.
In fact, I think my post taken as a whole was quite clear on this point. You may have missed this paragraph: “To be clear – nothing about the ‘partial-birth’ abortion ban makes it illegal to remove an already-dead fetus using the D&X procedure. But it doesn’t matter, because the effect of the ban (if it ever becomes good law) will be to make the procedure unavailable even in cases where a D&X is undeniably legal and desperately needed.”
I don’t think anyone who read the post as a whole, including the above paragraph, could come away with the mistaken impression that I claim pro-lifers want to make removing an already-dead fetus with D&X illegal.
The Catholic Church opposes all abortions, including those necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
Is that your position too?
Jen, here is my main point, which you have not addressed, and it’s not semantic: As with birth control, the D&C and even more so, the D&X procedures have become politicized, with “pro-life” groups undermining the training doctors can receive in doing those procedures (particularly in Catholic hospitals) because they can be used to perform abortions. That they are also used in life threatening situations where, for instance, a natural miscarriage doesn’t occur, to eliminate a molar pregnancy, to remove a dead fetus that may cause the mother to become septic or to damage her reproductive organs, and so forth, just seems to be accepted as collateral damage. That’s not pro-life. It’s sick.
I’m not sure removing a dead fetus isn’t an abortion–even if the fetus is dead, a woman is still pregnant, isn’t she? And by removing the fetus, you are still aborting the pregnancy, right?
>>Mooglar, I wondered too why these people became doctors, pharmacists, etc. (even some OB-GYNs don’t like to prescribe BC pills, even though they have many uses — BC pills are a target here, too), but there is a push lately for right-wingers to enter the medical and law positions precisely for these purposes.
Amanda, “fetal demise” more or less “ends” the pregnancy; the only issue is how long it takes the body to expel the fetus, which, I’m pretty sure, depends to some extent on how far along you are. Pregnancy hormone levels have to drop to near zero for the body to kick into action, and this presumably takes longer if they are higher to begin with.
Amp: I did read the disclaimer, but to me it came off as you clearing up a technicality of although pro-lifers have demonized the procedure in all situations (even when the fetus is dead), they have indeed stopped short of attaching such language to the ban. If that’s not what you meant, great. I apologize. But if you mean to say that pro-lifers should take the responsibility of every doctor/medical school who/that have chosen not to offer the procedure, I believe you are overstepping a bit.
Don P: I have never been shown a case (despite countless requests) where an abortion saved the life of a mother. I do not believe you should ever deliberately kill any human — mother or fetus. If both mother and fetus are in need of saving, I (and I believe most other Catholics) are OK with trying to save the mother’s life first.
Barbara: Collateral damage? Of course not. Before this country legalized abortion, I believe late term miscarriages did not have the option of abortion-like procedures. (Anyone who knows otherwise, please speak.) Therefore, unprecedented conversations about what should become of a perfectly good procedure, which has a history of being used primarily for an “illegal” purpose, must take place in the event that the abortion is banned. If the procedure is becoming extinct for reasons other than the doctor’s/medical school’s moral opposition, I would not lay blame, especially total blame, on pro-lifers.
Jen: I think most pro-lifers genuinely don’t think that abortion should be illegal if the fetus is already dead due to “natural causes.”
I do think that most pro-lifers are unjustifiably indifferent to the fact that an unintentional consequences of pro-life laws is making abortion less or un-available to women who need abortions (even according to the overly narrow definition of “need” used by pro-lifers).
Regarding women who need an abortion to prevent death, very few women ever get into a simple, have-this-abortion-or-it’s-absolutely-certain-you’ll-die situation. What’s more common is that women who have an unacceptably high risk of death will choose to get an abortion.
I’m not a doctor, of course, but one example of a condition which could require an abortion to save the mother’s life is an ectopic pregnancy.
Another example would be the case of a pregnant woman who was diagnosed with Primary Pulmonary Hyptertension (PPH), Marfan’s syndrome with aortic root involvement, complicated coarctation of the aorta, or peripartum cardiomyapthy with residual dysfunction. Basically, if a woman is already
sick, the additional stresses of pregnancy and childbirth could cause her death.
Jen, in fairness to you, there will never be many doctors who do D&E or D&X because it is a procedure that is best done by somebody who does a lot of them. This is generally true in medicine. And further, even though pro-life groups don’t seem to accept this, the request for such a procedure is relatively rare. However, the moral stigma associated with it does mean that doctors are not being trained even though they have no particular qualms about doing it, and I was told pretty directly by my Ob-gyn that it is almost certainly safer than the alternatives for any pg that ends after 20 weeks. So there are many women who are receiving medical care that is less safe than it needs to be.
I guarantee you that the “discussion” you are referring to will never take place. The need is current, and it doesn’t seem to matter.
Don P: I have never been shown a case (despite countless requests) where an abortion saved the life of a mother.
A woman is pregnant and the medical opinion of her doctors is that unless she has an abortion she will die. Do you think she should be allowed to have the abortion or not?
I do not believe you should ever deliberately kill any human — mother or fetus. If both mother and fetus are in need of saving, I (and I believe most other Catholics) are OK with trying to save the mother’s life first.
The Catholic Church opposes all procured abortions. All of them, period. It makes no exception for abortions necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
Don P. is right. From the Catholic Health Care Directives:
46. Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.
47. Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.
48. In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.
Where a woman’s life is in danger as the result of the pregnancy itself it is only permissible to treat the underlying condition, and if this cannot be treated without abortion, that’s too bad. In the case where treatment seriously compromises the fetus without killing it — same.
In the case of an ectopic pregnancy my understanding is that the Catholic preference is to remove the tube, which does lead to the unavoidable but “unintentional” death of the fetus, while incidentally seriously compromising the woman’s fertility as well as subjecting her to major surgery. This is in preference to giving cytyc or methatrexate, drugs that essentially kill the fetus and begin the process of miscarriage.
I don’t think many Catholics fully understand the Directives.
#48 refers to ectopic pregnancy, correct? If so, the Directive says that it is not acceptable to remove the ectopic pregnancy as long as the never-to-be-born fertilized ovum is still alive. Which, Jen, is your example of letting the mother die.
mythago, I think that in practice (as I said above) what happens (which I have invormally verified) is that the Catholic Church allows the removal of the fetus when the fallopian tube is also removed (salpingectomy). That is the “intervention” is the removal of the tube, leaving the fetus “intact” though obviously and inevitably going to die. At that point, of course, if the woman wants future children she may be out of luck (depending on whether the other tube can be saved) because IVF is the only intervention for blocked tubes — and the Church condemns IVF as well.
I can’t accept this. I accept the Church’s position on abortion (life begins at conception) as flowing from a certain biological logic, embedded in a deeply entrenched view about the role of women and an ethos that, in no small measure, mandates us to accept the hand fate has dealt us. I have a lot of qualms about stem cell research, and I think that many abortions are “wrong” in the sense that if someone asked my opinion I’d offer to help and would try to persuade them to change their mind (with reasonable charity). But when presented with potentially truly catastrophic events — fetus with likely catastrophic or fatal defect, ectopic pregnancy, mother with cancer requiring radiation, or similar events, I can never escape the conviction that the vise of fate should be mediated by more nuanced reasoning, as it is with the just war doctrine, for instance.
And I trust women to apply their own moral code, given the uniqueness of their own circumstances and the life changing nature of pregnancy, which is why I am so opposed to most legal restrictions on abortion.
mythago, #47 could be used as the “out” to justify removing the fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. of course, if anyone except a catholic surgeon suggested that method of treatment for that condition, they’d be skating close to the edge of malpractice in my arrogant opinion…
Nomen, what is scary is that when you go to a Catholic hospital you really do have to wonder whether you are going to be told about all your options. This is why you need to think long and hard before you turn to a Catholic-based facility for any reproductive services. They don’t have to perform things that are morally objectionable to them, but they should be required to tell women that alternatives exist that they aren’t equipped to provide because of their moral code. That said, I know that many Catholic hospitals arrange work arounds, especially academic medical centers, who won’t get referrals from the community if they’re perceived as being unwilling to provide a full range of services. But as a patient you have no way of knowing. It’s not even like they give you the directives so that you can at least ask them whether they are having an impact in your situation.
Amp said: I do think that most pro-lifers are unjustifiably indifferent to the fact that an unintentional consequences of pro-life laws is making abortion less or un-available to women who need abortions (even according to the overly narrow definition of “need” used by pro-lifers).
Perhaps pro-lifers have not realized access to the procedure is becoming limited or denied to late-term miscarriage victims. It’s not highly publicized by the generic media. That’s one of the reasons I read and comment here. You are quick to say what pro-lifers and conservatives are doing wrong. I care about that and also believe that some of you here care about what makes us pro-lifers/conservatives tick. Otherwise, we are just preaching to our separate choirs and nothing gets accomplished.
Don P. wrote: A woman is pregnant and the medical opinion of her doctors is that unless she has an abortion she will die. Do you think she should be allowed to have the abortion or not?
Also, Don P: The Catholic Church opposes all procured abortions. All of them, period. It makes no exception for abortions necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
Again, I’ve not heard of an abortion being the only option provided by a physician. Also, I stand by the Catholic Church’s position. If the fetus needs to be removed in order to save the mother’s life, it should be. Removal does not necessitate an abortion procedure. Of course in the case of ectopic pregnancy the possibility of infertility is extremely devastating. Pro-lifers do not rejoice in that.
Barbara: I so appreciate everything you are saying and the respectful tone you are using to say it.
If you understand the “Church’s position on abortion (life begins at conception) as flowing from a certain biological logic, embedded in a deeply entrenched view about the role of women and an ethos that, in no small measure, mandates us to accept the hand fate has dealt us”, why don’t you see us as just being consistent? Intentionally ending a life is intentionally ending a life. The fetus doesn’t drop in value based on circumstances.
Opening up a new can of worms…re moral code. Should we have no laws to protect society? Should we really just trust each other to do the right thing? The problem is that we often break our own moral codes when it is more convenient than the alternative. Respecting life during ectopic pregnancies and other severe problems is extremely difficult to bear; however, the majority of abortions do not stem from such problems and if the floodgates are open, they are wide open. Imagine if murder was left up to individual moral code.
Jen, I said I saw the Catholic position as being logical given certain parameters of basic biology and Catholic constructs — I didn’t say I fully agreed with it. I don’t, and certainly, I understand its weaknesses well enough to understand that many may genuinely and sincerely disagree wit it. And one of the most obnoxious traits of the Catholic pro-life proponent is the refusal to concede that oppononents are acting based on an honest and good faith disagreement. It’s hugely offputting.
At any rate, it is an inflexible logic that actually yields very little to biology EXCEPT for the reductivist proposition that identifiably human DNA (cells) equals a human being who is as important as the woman who bears it. As many others have argued, the position ignores alot of other significant biological aspects of this particular set of human cells. And it ignores it at least in part because it sees the value of women largely (not exclusively) as being tied to their reproductive capacity. Thus, loss of liberty, threat to health, well-being, livelihood, and so on are simply discounted if not actually celebrated as an opportunity to accept sacrifice. Why isn’t invasion by an opposing army viewed as an opportunity to humbly accept defeat and humility and show sacrifice as Our Lord did?
I would also argue that most people really don’t believe this to be true — they may pay lip service to it in theory, though they usually don’t even do that (even you quibbled above) and they certainly don’t follow it in practice. The Catholic position on extrauterine pregnancies is dishonest to the point of being immature. You take the tube and the baby dies. It’s a deliberate choice, and it really shouldn’t matter if you achieve the same result through using medicines that preserve the mother’s health and fertility.
Go read the other thread on feminism and pro-life. I’m tired of rehashing this.
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