Abortion rights and danger to the mother's life

Let’s keep this in GQ territory, please.

In last night’s Presidential debate, McCain criticized Obama for voting against a bill in the IL Senate that would have required medical personnel to provide life-saving medical care for any fetus that survived a late-term abortion. Obama’s response was that he voted against the bill in part because there was no measure allowing for late-term abortion if the mother’s life or health were in danger.

Now some places, like El Salvador, prohibit abortion even if the mother’s life is in danger. But I was surprised to see McCain defend the lack of an exception for danger to the mother’s life. What proportion of Americans overall, and what proportion of Americans who oppose legal abortion, would support such a restrictive law?

How are the two related?

McCain’s bill (the bill he discussed) required lifesaving care for an infant that survived a late-term abortion. What does that have to do with allowing or not allowing an abortion based on the health of the mother?

In other words, McCain says: “If the child is born alive, you have to care for him or her, not kill him or her or let him or her die.” Obama says: “There’s no exception for the health of the mother, so I was against it.”


At risk of dragging my own thread into GD territory, Obama’s other reason for opposing the bill was that there was already a law in IL requiring provision of lifesaving medical care in that situation. Maybe I should go dig up some more info on the bill, unless someone else cares to beat me to the punch.

My question still stands, though - what percentage of people who oppose legalized abortion oppose it in ALL circumstances, including when the life of the mother is at stake?

Here’s one relatively balanced article on the subject. I’m curious about the actual text of the various versions, though. If anyone feels like digging them up, I don’t know how much time I will have to devote to theat sort of thing today, and really, it isn’t central to my OP - the OP just popped into my head in the context of the debate.

I was also surprised that even the most radical oponnent of abortion would be against abortion even in cases where failure to perform an abortion would likely kill mother AND fetus.

ETA: Yay for factcheck.org.

I am sure few of you were around when abortion was a state decision. There were a lot of women and young girls who died trying to have back alley abortions. It was an ugly time. Many went through such horrible procedures that having a child was no longer an option. They were back alley, dirty little operations. It was not America at its best. Believe it, we would go back there again. Some women will do whatever it takes to avoid having a child they are not ready for or unable to take care of.
Danger to the mother was at its peak when abortion was illegal.

The core/base anti-abortion movement folks consider exceptions for the health of the mother to be a loophole through which abortions will still be provided — that is, everyone who wishes an abortion will suddenly somehow magically be at risk medically. They aren’t wrong: many doctors, when abortion was (mostly) illegal, would find ways of doing it anyway (legally). Hmm, serious risk of eclampsia, uterine hemorrhagic fever, severe maternal distress and risk of maternal infanticide syndrome, floating kidneys, mongolian foot rot, and ossification of the spleen, gotta terminate this pregnancy so sorry. That’s because you can’t legislate morality, or at least a ‘morality’ with which so many people vehemently disagree. People will consider it their moral duty to help women terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The prolife contingent contains many people who are livid at any possibility of a loophole, and (as has been discussed here before) consider women who have [del]slutted around[/del] behaved in a sexually irresponsibly manner to have abandoned any access to sympathy or concern, whereas the fetus is “innocent” and must be saved.

Guys: I understand the potential for loopholes, and I have close family members who had abortions pre-Roe v. Wade. I’m thinking of situations like in an article I read, which I can’t find now, whic prohibited, say, operating on a woman with an ectopic pregnancy until it had actually ruptured, and therefore it was 100% too late to save the fetus, and quite dangerous for the woman as well. That kind of thing - nobody reasonable is going to argue that the fetus was viable in that circumstance.

Just as food for thought, in this situation Jewish law would not only permit, but require abortion to save the mother’s life.

This doesn’t effect the basis of Eva Luna’s question about mother’s health exceptions, but I think there’s some confusion over the laws mentioned in the debate. I watched this exchange in the debate and I believe two different laws that Obama voted on are being conflated. One was a bill requiring medical care of babies surviving abortion. To this, Obama responded that he had voted against it because there was already a law requiring this. Additionally, the Hippocratic Oath of the doctors would require them to provide care. The second bill was regarding banning late-term abortions (maybe partial birth specifically?). Obama said he voted against this because it did not provide an exception for protecting the health of the mother.

You’re probably right, which is what I get for flipping between the actual debate and the post-along thread in GD. But yes, my question still stands, and the kind of situation I mean is that described on P. 8 of the New York Times article I linked above (re: Salvadoran abortion law).

:: bump ::

Not one single factual response to the question in the OP? With all the people around here who have such strong opinions on abortion, I’m honestly surprised.

The understanding of Catholic law I was taught suggests roughly the same thing is true–if you have to do something to save the live of the mother (no other option will save her life), and that something you have to do aborts the fetus, then you’re morally in the clear. Principle of Double Effect, I think it’s called.

Eva, my good, longtime doper friend: Here’s your original question:

How could any of us know a factual answer to that one? I hope Roe v Wade remains on the books, but what percent of the rest of the citizenry feels that way is something that may be beyond the knowledge of elves and men.

Not only that, but there is a preference that the loss of the fetus be secondary to the lifesaving treatment for the mother. (a tidbit I learned from a discussion on this board) For example, in treating tubal pregnancies the options are typically treatment with methotrexate to abort the fetus, or surgical removal of the affected tube. Catholic theology suggests that surgery is the ethically superior choice as it is surgery to save the mother that just happens to kill the fetus, as opposed to directly killing the fetus with methotrexate which happens to save the mother. (and the tube, and avoids the additional hazards of surgery)

As for the OP, I’m not sure where one would find such numbers. Most statistics I see don’t break the question down into the “even if the mother’s life is at stake” level, they’re just pro/con. I agree that such a number would be interesting.

And middle class women had an easier time finding (& paying) a doctor who would perform a theraputic abortion that poor women. If push came to shove a rich woman could simply take a quick trip overseas.

A common ploy pre-Roe v. Wade was for the pregnant woman to testify she would kill herself if she had to stay pregnant. Since that would also kill the fetus, the moral view was better to save one life by abortion than two by denying abortion.

I was poking around for some kind of semi-reliable opinion survey, but couldn’t find one. That’s what I was hoping someone else would know better than I, as I can’t even find information about which religious groups/sects even have such a radical opinion.

I mean really, there are Catholics who wouldn’t have a problem with, say, operating on a woman whose ectopic pregnancy was about to rupture and possibly kill her, and then there are Catholics like the ones who pushed through El Salvador’s extremely restrictive zero-tolerance abortion law. I was just shocked at the prospect that a mainstream political candidate in the U.S. could potentially be closer to the latter opinion than the former, and was curious about what percentage of American voters might support him in that.

Does that help?

Here you go. Lots and lots and lots of surveys. Numbers vary from 8 to 26%, with my eyeballed average in the low 20’s. Looking at the past decade or so, the number is rising pretty steadily.

One thing seems true: there are more people in favor of letting a woman die rather than letting her have an abortion than there are gay people. Think for a second about how many gay people you know. Now realize that chances are good you know more than that who are anti-abortion even when the mother’s life is at risk, even if they haven’t told you that.

Thanks for the link.

I don’t know if I’m a particularly good example of your second point, though - as a near-native Evanstonian who went to college at NYU, I know a LOT of gay people, and most of the people I come into contact with are very liberal-minded on the abortion issue (even the nominally Catholic ones).

That’s true, the overlap of “knows gay people” and “knows people who are radically anti-abortion” probably isn’t large. I should have left that part off.

In Ireland (south - although the north isn’t much better) abortion is legal only to save the woman’s life. This includes where she’s a suicide risk, as of a 1992 court case involving a 14-year-old rape victim. The government has twice tried to overturn the suicide exception by referendum but has lost both times.

The hardcore antiabortionistas oppose this policy and in fact deny that there is ever a time when abortion is needed to save a woman’s life.

The Catholic Church takes the position outlined by Solfy above whereby “indirect abortion”, ie a procedure designed to save a woman’s life which incidentally has the effect of terminating the pregnancy, is ok.

However the lack of real clarity around the law (the government has refused to legislate to outline the specific circumstances in which abortion is permissible, and the procedures that must be followed) combined with the severe criminal penalties in place for “illegal” abortion mean that many doctors simply refuse to perform them even when they appear to meet the criteria for legal abortion. This is also the case in a number of other countries with strict laws.

Poland recently lost a case in the European Court of Human Rights about this (therapeutic abortion is legal there but where a doctor refused to perform one, a woman had no recourse to review of his decision) and there are several suits pending against Ireland on similar grounds.

Doesn’t answer your question but I hope it was interesting :slight_smile: