Confusion arises because the term “abortion” has different connotations in medicine and in law. The Oxford dictionary defines abortion as the “premature delivery of a child.” Medical dictionaries, however, list 22 or more classifications of abortions, including accidental, septic, induced, criminal, infected and spontaneous.
Are all these abortions illegal?
Obviously legislation does not deal with accidental or natural causes of an abortion or miscarriage, such as is caused by intrauterine infection or severe trauma or shock. However, because the non-medical person often interprets the term “abortion” as a deliberate interruption of pregnancy (formerly criminal), doctors find it advisable to substitute the word “miscarriage” when discussing spontaneous or other non-induced abortions with a patient and her family. Such abortions were never illegal. To quote an example: an abnormality of the placenta can cause the natural abortion of a child. Medically, this is an abortion; legally it is not an abortion.
The law is only concerned with those abortions which are deliberately induced or performed in order to destroy the life of the unborn child. The legal interpretation of abortion is much more restrictive than the medical. Webster calls such actions “aborticide.”
Shouldn’t the law allow abortion when it is necessary to save the life of the mother?
Today, in the present stage of medical and surgical care, the need for an abortion, the direct killing of an unborn child, to save the life of the mother, is virtually non-existent. As long ago as 1951, Dr. Roy S. Hefferman of Tufts University said, in an address to the Congress of the American College of Surgeons: “Anyone who performs a therapeutic abortion is either ignorant of modern methods of treating the complications of pregnancy or is unwilling to use them.” Others, such as Dr. P. Donnelly, then the Medical Director of one of North America’s largest maternity hospitals, stated flatly: “Abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother.”
Every doctor who gave evidence at the Borowski trial was of the same opinion. Dr. Heather Morris, a member of the staff of both Women’s College Hospital and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto, testified that in more than 20 years of her personal practice she had never seen a case where it was necessary to abort a child to save the life of the mother.
Sir William Liley – “The Father of Fetology” – also gave evidence. His hospital in Auckland takes in problem pregnancies from all of New Zealand. He said: “Women with the strangest conditions and most serious disorders that you can imagine are having babies – this is the safety of modern obstetrics. So that we have had women who have never been out of a wheelchair in their lives with their spinal deformities, their spina bifida, women who have the heart valve transplants or have steel balls, steel-ball valves replacing normal heart valves; women who have artificial kidneys, women who have transplanted kidneys….And yet, other women, with little or nothing wrong with them, are requesting abortion.
The medical evidence is clear: there are no situations where it is necessary to kill the pre-born child to save the mother’s life. However, history shows that where a law exists permitting such unnecessary abortions, the number of abortions escalates. Years ago, Dr. Herbert Ratner, the Director of Public Health at Oak Park, Illinois said: “…today some licensed physicians practicing in approved hospitals disregard both the letter and the spirit of the law by performing abortions that are in no way necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life.” He said too: “abortions are also lucrative. We know that in the effort to please patients some of the profession have a talent for descending to the lowest common denominator.”
In was another well-known U.S. Physician, Dr. John Grady, who pin-pointed a solution. He stated: “True, we cannot legislate morality, but we can refuse to legislate procedures that facilitate immorality.” Legislation allowing abortion for the life of the mother would “facilitate immorality.”
It is essential, however, to be careful and to distinguish such cases as ectopic pregnancies and cancer of the uterus, which are abnormal or diseased conditions and life-threatening. If cancer of the uterus is diagnosed late on in the pregnancy – possibly after 18 weeks – the doctor might postpone surgery until the baby is able to survive outside the womb. However, both cancer which is diagnosed at an early stage in the pregnancy and a tubal pregnancy, are imminent dangers to the life of the mother and thus to the baby. If the mother dies, so does the child. There is no way to save the baby.
Treatments of these conditions cause the unavoidable death of the child; they do not involve the deliberate and intentional killing of the baby. Legally they are not, and never have been, considered abortions, and no prosecutions have ever followed such treatments in Canada, Britain or the United States. Such surgery and treatments are moral even under Roman Catholic teaching.
In summary, there is no need for the inclusion of a “life of the mother” clause in legislation. Such a reference is a threat to the unborn child.