Abortion is in the news this year, and for all of the right reasons. Abortion-rights proponents can no longer ignore or deflect discussion around the second patient involved in an abortion procedure. While that discussion does have many moral implications, the most important development is that the medical ethics issues involved are coming to the forefront.
Thanks to several state legislatures, 2019 has provided as stark a contrast on the issue of abortion as ever.
The states of Illinois and New York have given us regressive laws that serve to illustrate the naked, brutal inhumanity of abortion in a way we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, and other states have started to follow suit.
Recent abortion legalization in New York and Illinois extend virtually to the moment of birth through vague but malleable language. The states’ lawmakers have effectively removed the veil from the lie of a “safe” abortion because after viability, abortion is much more likely to result in the death of the mother with each subsequent week of pregnancy. They’ve made it clear that for them it’s not about the health of the mother or the child. The endgame is the removal and destruction of an otherwise viable and innocent human being.
If the issue were simply to separate the mother from the fetus, measures would be taken to ensure the survival of that baby until it can find a loving and adoptive home. Carrying to term remains the safest option for the short- and long-term health and well-being of both mother and child.
Survival of extremely premature infants has rapidly progressed to the point where survival is possible at 22 weeks gestation. If necessary, extremely preterm infants can in fact be separated from their mothers and survive if a medical issue requires delivery.
This underscores the fact that these infants are fully formed, individual human beings and, for us, second patients.
On the other hand, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and other states have provided a clear counterpoint. In those states, the unborn child is protected from conception or when the child’s heart starts beating around six weeks gestation.
As obstetricians and gynecologists we usually take the Hippocratic oath at the beginning of our careers, intending to save and improve the lives of patients.
The classic version of this oath reads in part: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.”
For this reason, 86% of our fellow OB-GYN physicians elect not to perform abortions.
We know we have a responsibility to care for both the pregnant woman and her unborn child. We know, scientifically and medically, there are two human patients involved, regardless of whether the child is wanted.
The path before us, informed by our training, experience and ethical guidelines, is clear. Protect both.
The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or AAPLOG, believes that abortion is not a safe or medically necessary option for virtually all of the women who undergo the traumatic procedure each year. If the goal as stated by abortion-rights proponents is nothing more than the well-being of the woman, there is a support infrastructure of thousands of pro-life pregnancy centers and adoption agencies that offer better and lower-risk options for her own health as well as multiple forms of support for when the baby is unwanted by one or both of her parents.
This year has provided society with a rare opportunity to make right an ongoing wrong in medical ethics — the elective killing of a human being.
As members of a free and democratic society, we rely on our elected officials and government leaders to protect the interests and rights of citizens of all ages and abilities when they make legislative and policy decisions. The right to live and breathe is the first and most sacred of those rights.
Donna Harrison, M.D., is executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has more than 4,000 members.