With the way abortion advocates talk sometimes, you'd think it was common for women to medically require abortions to save their lives.
But is that actually the case?
Dr. Susan Rutherford, a Navy veteran and board certified OB-GYN specializing in maternal-fetal medicine, has seen only one patient in her entire 35+-year career that required an abortion to save her life.
"She was 16 weeks with severe pre-eclampsia, her liver function was rapidly deteriorating, and she was developing DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation), which would result in uncontrollable hemorrhaging (bleeding) throughout her body," says Rutherford.
Thankfully, a tragic circumstance like this is rare.
"(F)or most of my career . . . (I) have been the recipient of complicated obstetrical patients," she says. "At one point, I was the primary referral person for doctors who, together, delivered about 4,000 patients per year (two hospitals). So if there were situations requiring abortion to save a life, I should have seen some. "
In spite of such a rarity, last month, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Trinity Health Corporation, one of the USA's largest Catholic health systems, alleging Catholic directives against destroying babies in the womb violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and requesting that the court order the hospital chain to perform abortions in certain circumstances.
The ACLU claims that:
"Because of [the Catholic directives], hospitals within the Trinity Health system have repeatedly and systematically failed to provide women suffering pregnancy complications— including at least one of Plaintiffs’ members—with the emergency care required by EMTALA and the Rehabilitation Act. "
Update: A federal court has agreed to allow several pro-life doctor groups to intervene in defense of Trinity Health Corporation. In December, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists asked the court to allow the groups to intervene. On March 23, the court will hear arguments on whether to dismiss the ACLU’s lawsuit.
The "emergency care" that the ACLU is talking about is abortion, and the "pregnancy complications" that it claims several women experienced was a condition called premature rupture of membranes (PROM), which, according to Dr. Rutherford, is when “the amniotic sac breaks, allowing the fluid around the baby to leak out to varying degrees.”
An article by USA Today quotes an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington saying that:
"When [PROM] happens early in a pregnancy, it virtually always results in fetal death . . . This is a situation where there is virtually no chance that the fetus will survive."
Not so, says Dr. Rutherford.
"For 'previable' PROM (prior to 24 weeks), survival ranges from about 14% to 90% (with the 90% number coming from the latest studies), depending on gestational age at rupture, amount of amniotic fluid remaining/ongoing in the amniotic cavity, and duration from rupture to delivery," she explains.
With so many variables in play, Dr. Rutherford says it becomes a matter of how premature the baby will be.
"In some cases, the rupture ‘seals’ or might partially seal, and fluid re-accumulates and the pregnancy may proceed to near term . . . I do agree that events leading to delivery have been set in motion when PROM occurs; the only question is timing of delivery," says Rutherford. "The more premature the birth, the greater the chance of a surviving baby having complications . . . I have often seen situations in which the doctors are pessimistic, do not want to risk a handicapped child, and paint the bleakest picture . . . While early induction should be an option, more frequently, patients request expectant management (waiting) and will take a chance in order to have whatever baby God gives them."
Dr. Rutherford says that if evidence of infection develops during the waiting period, delivery becomes medically mandatory.
"Close observation and immediate action (usually induction of labor if it has not already started) combined with antibiotic treatment of the mother usually prevents serious overwhelming infection (sepsis) in the mother," says Rutherford. "Deaths of such women are extremely rare."
A Catholic health system not performing an abortion in a situation like this is not news-worthy, and it's certainly not lawsuit-worthy. When a pregnant woman is sick, or in rare cases has a life threatening illness or complication, the Catholic Church allows treatment of the illness itself even if it might result in the loss of life of the baby, but it does not allow the direct killing of a baby as a means to treat the illness—this is called the principle of "double effect."
Doctors are healers. The Hippocratic Oath demands that they first "do no harm," and the Catholic Church is committed to defending this principle. The job of these doctors is to do everything they can to save the lives of their patients—both the mother and the baby in the womb.
So yes, abortion is a life and death issue: rarely for the mother but always for the baby.