In last June’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In response, pro-choice activists and lawmakers, aided and abetted by their media allies, began a campaign of misinformation.

Americans are now hearing that without access to abortion, women are at risk of injury or death due to pregnancy complications that have nothing to do with abortion. 

For instance, women are led to believe that they could be denied care for an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, or pregnancy beset by a life-threatening infection. But that has never been true, and never will be. 

At the same time, in the latter half of 2022, conservatives in several states encountered setbacks in the form of new pro-abortion legislation, voter referendums, and legal challenges to pro-life laws. 

As a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, I’m dismayed to see that happening. We have good science and good medicine on our side, but many Americans don’t know that.

The pro-life community cannot afford to let lies take hold in the debate over life. We should explain what we do and don’t stand for, and define clearly what abortion is, and what it isn’t.

In making the case against abortion, legislators need to be armed with earnest, compassionate, and medically accurate arguments.

First, Americans must clearly define what abortion is, and what it isn’t:

  • Abortion is not done due to a maternal medical diagnosis. Yes, many of the same medications and procedures can be used to perform an abortion or treat miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. In the case of an abortion, though, ending the baby’s life is intended, not spontaneous or the unintended result of inevitable, natural events. Pro-abortionists conflate these situations to confuse Americans. 

In all of medicine, the ethics of a medical intervention depends on its use. For example, a doctor may remove a woman’s fallopian tubes to treat cancer. Or the doctor could do the same to sterilize her against her will. The same procedure is good and lifesaving in the former case, but abhorrent in the latter.

The intervention itself does not define its morality.

A simple way to figure out whether an act is an abortion is to look at the diagnosis justifying the act. If there is no diagnosis of the mother other than “viable intrauterine pregnancy” or “undesired pregnancy,” then the intent is to end the pregnancy. That’s an abortion.

If there is a maternal medical diagnosis, such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or infection, there is no such intent, and thus no abortion.

  • The intent of an abortion is to end the life of the fetus. When a doctor is treating an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, the intent is never to end the life of the fetus. In both cases, the fetus either has zero chance of survival or has died already. Here, decision-making rightly focuses solely on what’s best for the mother. That’s not an abortion. 
  • There is no medical justification for abortion after the point of fetal viability. Abortion is never necessary to protect a mother’s life for pregnancy complications that occur after viability.

In fact, in circumstances requiring emergency delivery, delaying to perform procedures or administer drugs with the intent of ending the child’s life could harm the mother. If a mother’s life is at risk due to pregnancy beyond viability, a doctor should induce labor or perform a Cesarean section, depending on the scenario. Both result in the birth of a living child, unlike abortion. 

A thorough review of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines makes this clear. Life-threatening conditions include sepsis due to pre-labor preterm rupture of membranes; hemorrhage due to placental abruption, placenta previa, placenta accreta syndrome; and countless others. In their guidance on management of these complications, never does the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cite abortion prior to delivery as necessary intervention.

What We’re For

Second, the pro-life movement and lawmakers can embrace a few universal, noncontroversial basics.

  1. Laws limiting abortion should include clear definitions and exclusions so that there’s no excuse for a doctor to deny a patient standard medical care. There should be no confusion. In settings where abortion has never been condoned, such as faith-based health care systems, physicians have always provided appropriate treatment for life-threatening pregnancies. No matter the geographic location or health care setting, it should be obvious to women, their doctors, and the public that no law would limit lifesaving care.
  2. Laws limiting abortion should clearly state that medications or procedures used for non-abortion purposes will still be available. Doctors will always be free to treat pregnancy complications, ectopic pregnancy, and miscarriage.
  3. After viability, doctors should proceed with induction of labor or perform a C-section if they must end a pregnancy to protect the mother. There’s virtually no circumstance after viability where a doctor must intentionally end the life of the unborn child to save a mother’s life. Thus, laws can and should protect the lives of viable fetuses.

This advice is grounded in the medical literature and consistent with standard practice of obstetrics and gynecology. Science is on the side of life, and most of the public will be as well, once armed with the facts.

Because of intentional confusion, it will take a lot of work to help the public again understand what abortion is and isn’t, but by doing so, pro-life candidates and lawmakers can do far more to protect unborn human beings in law. 

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

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