Dr Peter Saunders

Abortion to save the life of the mother – how common is it?

Dr Peter Saunders was, until December 2018, the Chief Executive of CMF. Prior to that he was a general surgeon in New Zealand, Kenya and the UK. He is now the CEO of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA), a global movement uniting national Christian medical and dental organisations in over 60 countries,
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

Abortion to save the life of the mother makes up a miniscule fraction of the 200,000 abortions carried out each year in Britain but it is usually the very first question that people ask.

It is a very common question from doctors who do abortions – as if carrying out an abortion in an emergency to save life somehow justifies abortion for each and every reason.

But how common is it?

Usually when the mother’s life is at risk from an ongoing pregnancy, the baby is at a viable age and so can be saved simply by bringing forward the time of delivery. However on very rare occasions it may be necessary to terminate an early mid-trimester pregnancy (13-22 weeks) in an emergency in order to save the life of the mother.

Here we are not saying that the baby’s life is less important than that of the mother, but simply (since the baby will die regardless) that it is better to intervene to save one life rather than to stand by and watch two people die. Even in these situations it is often possible to deliver the baby alive in such a way that the parents can have some short time to bond with it and say their goodbyes.

In the UK it was reported in 1992 that in the first 25 years of the operation of the Abortion Act 1967 only 0.013% of all abortions were performed ‘to save the life of the mother’ and it is even questionable whether many of these required such radical action. The 2009 Abortion Statistics for England and Wales do not record any on these grounds.

Ireland’s leading obstetricians stated in 1992: ‘… we affirm that there are no medical circumstances justifying direct abortion, that is, no circumstances in which the life of the mother may only be saved by directly terminating the life of her unborn child’. (Letter to Irish Times, 1 April 1992)

This was not unsubstantiated. The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin investigated in detail the 21 maternal deaths which occurred among the 74,317 pregnancies managed in 1970-1979. The conclusion was that abortion wouldn’t have saved the mother’s life in a single case.[1] And given the improvement in medical care since then we would expect it to even less common now.

Alan Guttmacher, former President of the pro-abortion US Planned Parenthood Federation has said:

‘Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save life’.[2]

So when people jump immediately to asking about abortion to save the life of the mother there is almost certainly another agenda. They are trying to divert attention from the fact that the overwhelming majority of abortions are not done for this reason.

In fact 98% of abortions in Britain are not even legal under the existing law.

1. Murphy J. Maternal Mortality – is there ever a case for abortion? Irish Medical Journal 1982; 75:304-306 (September)
2.Guttmacher A. Abortion – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ The Case for legalised abortion now. Diablo Press.1967

Posted by Dr Peter Saunders
CMF Chief Executive

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