Quick Response #13: We Need Broad Abortion Access for Maternal Mortality

Emily Albrecht responds to pro-choice concerns about maternal mortality rates and abortion when the life of the mother is at risk. How should we handle those tragic situations, and how does that apply to abortion law?

Watch all the videos in ERI’s Quick Response series here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsN8Ay8poS-It-dWSmblq1ZufOH-MVj1L

Related Links:

Abortion as “Self-Defense”

Script Text

You know what’s frustrating? When people take a legitimate response to a tragic situation and use that as a bad, emotional argument for why it needs to be available for everyone, always. So it bothers me when people argue that cases where the life of the mother is at risk demonstrate that abortion should be broadly legal.

(intro sequence)

There are very few cases where what some people term “abortion” is the ethically appropriate response. Most notable are cases of ectopic pregnancy, in which the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. In this case, the embryo will die, before or after rupturing the tube, and this rupture can easily be fatal to the mother. Most pro-life people at least agree that it is appropriate to remove the section of the fallopian tube where the embryo has implanted, which will cause the embryo’s death to be sooner but save the life of the mother.

Some pro-life people disagree that this should be called an “abortion”; because the intention is life-saving rather than killing, they would say it’s some other kind of procedure. Other pro-lifers would say that it’s appropriate to take more direct action against the embryo, like the use of methotrexate, rather than the indirect approach of removing the fallopian tube, because there isn’t an interesting difference between more and less direct procedures when the embryo still dies.

Pro-life people can disagree about some of the details on this, and that’s fine; we can disagree about terms or whether direct or indirect action is more appropriate and still be on the same side. But when some anti-abortion people use language about the life-of-the-mother exception to say that those who disagree with them support abortion, they’re acting in bad faith, causing problems, and possibly jeopardizing people’s lives, which is the opposite of what we want to do.

Regardless of what terms or actions you use to describe these tragic situations, cases where the life of the mother is at risk are unlike all other abortions. These are cases of triage, where you’re just trying to save as many lives as you can. It’s illegitimate to use them as evidence for why abortion is necessary for everyone, because this doesn’t apply to over 99 percent of abortions.

Sometimes, pro-choice people will argue that ALL abortions are a form of self-defense against maternal mortality. We have a much longer video on that, which we’ll link to in the description, but the main takeaway is this: pregnancies don’t all become life-of-the-mother cases because there’s a point-zero-two-percent chance that a given pregnancy might become a life-of-the-mother case.

You can’t make the argument that it hurts access, that you need the abortion facilities open to help women in these situations, that they’ll be stigmatized if abortion is banned. Life-of-the-mother cases are handled best at a hospital. You don’t need broad abortion access or for Planned Parenthood to exist to handle these tragic cases.

Broad abortion access denies the right to life. Necessary medical care to save the life of the mother affirms it. The goal is to save as many people’s lives as possible.


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