The Life of The Mother

Whenever there is a debate between a pro-life individual and a pro-abortion one, the abortion champion is bound to offer as the final arguments, when all else fails, the case of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and the cases when the life of the mother is in danger. The first situation was analyzed before.[1] The latter will be discussed here.
It is unquestionable that this is a special case. It was reported that this justification is claimed in fewer than 1% of all abortions (about the same as for pregnancies resulting from rape.)[2] Debating this argument makes sense only if the ban on elective abortions is already agreed upon. This point needs to be made in any discussion.
Another important point is made by the very definition of the matter. We are talking here of saving the life of the mother. A woman cannot be mother to a blob of tissue, to a lump of cells. It is thus admitted that the thing inside her is a child.
It must, therefore, be stipulated that we are talking of two lives, in the limiting case in which only one of them can be saved, a situation encountered in many cases: when there are fewer vaccines than people, or the surgical teams cannot treat all the wounded on the battlefield, or when there are not enough lifeboats for all the passengers, like on the Titanic, etc. The dilemma is approached by a process named triage, which determines the priority of treatment when resources are insufficient.[3] For instance, one could exclude from vaccination the individuals which have the best chance to survive the infection on their own, or postpone the treatment of the less seriously wounded and concentrate on those with more severe injuries. At the same one would leave out those so severely wounded that the surgeons conclude have no chance to survive anyway, and work on those assessed as treatable.
The same judgment should be applied in case of the pregnant woman and her unborn child. There, abortion definitely destroys one of two lives. It can, therefore, be considered only after a careful examination of the prognosis for the mother if the pregnancy continues to term and the child is delivered. One has to consider what is the increase in the probability of the woman’s death because of the pregnancy, either during that time or later. (There is a nonzero probability of death in any circumstances.) Her prognosis has to be considered together with the state of health and the prospects of the unborn child.
In the natural relationship, there is a community of interests between the mother and the child, so the solution which maximizes the chances of both can be expected. The society can intervene in helping the woman, or rather, under normal circumstances, the family, to find this optimum. When the community of interests is lacking, the concept of the threat to the life of the mother might be stretched and abused. Then, the state can impose the optimum approach:
“(P)ublic power . . . always represents the missing person . . . the child before its birth.”[4]
When continuation of pregnancy will certainly result in the death of the mother, the prevailing opinion is that protection of actual, or self-sustaining, life has priority over protection of potential, or dependent, life.
A well-known champion of abortion has noted that “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.”[5] From the time of that statement (1967), treatments have been developed for those fatal illnesses, and those treatments would usually kill or fundamentally damage the baby. Then, the principle of priority of actual life dictates that the power of decision rests with the woman.
The data show that the decision is usually determined by the emotional attitude of the woman toward the child. (Actually, the current legislation on abortion in general accepts that the right to life of an individual is determined by the attitude of another individual toward him. There are states in which killing a child in its mother’s womb is a crime if the mother wants that child, but legal if the mother doesn’t want it.)
For mothers showing a natural attitude toward their unborn children, it is not uncommon that they will take some risks for themselves to save the child. Thus, a report from Great Britain told of a woman, Victoria Webster, who postponed cancer treatment until after the birth of her daughter, at the risk that by then the illness will be too advanced for the treatment to be successful. Later, Mrs. Webster was to say: “Every time I looked at her, I’d think: What if I’d listened to the doctors? That made me feel sick.”[6] A similar case was that of Vicky Roberts, of Dunstable, UK, who refused to terminate her pregnancy upon learning that she had Hodgkin’s disease and underwent chemotherapy after giving birth to a son. The treatment succeeded and later she had another child, her fourth.[6]
Through the efforts of some scientists, like Dr. Frederic Amant of Belgium, who specialized in gynecological oncology to find treatments for cancer during pregnancy, drugs and protocols which increase the survival chance have been developed.[7] These advances helped Jo Powell, of Nottingham, UK, who discovered that she was pregnant and, a week later, that she had breast cancer which had spread to her lymph nodes. She underwent two operations to remove tumor cells from breast and lymph nodes and at 20 weeks she started chemotherapy with agents that did not harm the baby. Six weeks before term, her boy was born and aggressive therapy was started. At the time of the report, the child was two-and-a-half and the mother was still in remission.[6] Her risk-taking paid off. In thinking of her we must remember that she did not know it when she made up her mind.
There have been cases of mothers that chose the life of the child over their own even if their death was certain at the end of pregnancy and an abortion could have saved it. The best known is that of the Blessed Gianna Molla,[8] but in our days other women have made the same choice, for instance Ashley Bridges of California, who decided: “I am not going to kill a healthy baby because I am sick,” and later counted her days: “I am really pushing for Paisley’s first birthday. This is what I do. I do October, OK, I just got to make it to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving comes around — OK, let’s just go to Christmas. Then Christmas comes and Braiden’s birthday is in March, so I’m going to make it to Braiden’s birthday. I’m just going to keep setting little goals for myself and we’ll see” . . . “I want my kids to know how much I love them and how much I fought for them.”[9] The same sacrifice was made by Elizabeth Joice of New York, who refused cancer treatment in order to continue carrying her child and died six weeks after giving birth to a healthy baby,[10] and by others. In all such cases, the decision rested with the mother.

[1] Rape and Abortion,, 5 Sept. 2012
[4] Louis de Bonald, On divorce (transl. by Nicholas Davidson) (first published in 1801), Transaction Publishers, 1992, p. 65.
[5] Alan F. Guttmacher, “Abortion — Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” in The Case for Legalized Abortion Now, Diablo Press, Berkeley, CA, 1967, quoted in Ref. [2]
[6] Helen Carroll, The Daily Mail, 31 July 2013;
[7](a) Steve Weatherby, New cancer treatment during pregnancy can save both mother and baby; ;
(b) Bryan Tutt, Treating Cancer in Pregnant patients;
[9] Stephanie Elam, Traci Tamura, CNN, 17 Jan. 2015.
[10] Susan Berry, May 2014;