Shouldn't We Permit Abortion Only to Save the Life of the Mother?

Brian Clowes
May 16, 2019
Reproduced with Permission

Abortion is completely legal in more than one hundred nations. In almost every case, population controllers first drove in the ultra-thin wedge of an abortion exception just to save the life of the mother.

This is a brilliant strategy for two reasons.

First, abortionists can easily stretch any law, no matter how strict or precisely written, into abortion on demand. Since they falsely consider abortion to be safer than childbirth, pro-abortionists can easily justify all abortions under the "life of the mother" exception. In fact, abortionists have claimed that all abortions are medically necessary.

This is certainly not a new development. For example, in 1980 abortionist Lise Fortier asserted, "Each and every pregnancy threatens a woman's life. From a strict medical viewpoint, every pregnancy should be aborted."1 Even earlier, abortionist David Zbaraz claimed that all first‑trimester and most second‑trimester abortions are medically necessary since, as he alleged, they are safer than childbirth.2

The second reason that the "life of the mother" exception is so pernicious is that it gets people in nations with pro-life laws accustomed to the concept of abortion so that it can be rapidly expanded in the future. After all, if we can legalize abortion to save the life of the mother, why not legalize it to preserve her physical and mental health as well - and then for social and economic reasons?

Rarity of the "Hard Cases"

People habitually overestimate the number of abortions committed for the classic "hard cases" of rape and incest, eugenics and life and health of the mother, a common error that is not at all discouraged by pro-abortionists.

Thirty years ago, Dr. Irving Cushner, Professor of Obstetrics at the UCLA School of Medicine, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When one of the Senators asked him how often abortions are necessary to save the life of the mother or to preserve her physical health, Dr. Cushner, who was strongly pro‑abortion, answered, "In this country, about one percent."3

This number has not changed. During the years 1996 to 2011, the states of Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah compiled data on the reasons that women obtain abortions. Of the 1.3 million aborting women surveyed, only 1.03 percent replied that they were having abortions to protect their lives or physical health.4

Modern medicine has virtually eliminated avoidable maternal deaths due to pregnancy, as many leading experts attested decades ago;

In those extremely rare cases when the mother's life truly is threatened by pregnancy (such as with cancer of the uterus or ectopic pregnancy), she may undergo an operation whose purpose is to save her life, even though the preborn child dies as an indirect result of the procedure. This principle is known as the "double effect."

The Lie that Life = Health

Many public opinion polls show that a large majority of people do not want to pay for abortions, so pro‑abortionists grossly overestimate the alleged "dangers" of pregnancy and childbirth in order to frighten people into supporting public abortion funding. Perpetuating the lie, they define a threat to the life of the mother in the same terms as a threat to her health. This way, abortion when the mother's life is in danger leads to abortion for any reason at all:

Hodgson also summarized the general pro‑abortion attitude when she said "A medically necessary abortion is any abortion a woman asks for."12


Due to the principle of the "double effect," surgical procedures that save the mother's life while causing the undesired and unintended death of the preborn child are permissible, so an abortion exception to save the life of the mother is actually unnecessary.

Pro-lifers must vigorously oppose the "mother's life" abortion exception because of the inherent dishonesty of abortionists who expand it to mean abortion on demand. Additionally, if surgical procedures intended to save the life of the mother are labeled "abortions" in those many countries that still have pro-life laws, people will get used to the idea of killing preborn children much more easily, paving the way for a rapid expansion of exceptions and eventual abortion on demand.


1 Lise Fortier, Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles. Quoted in OB/GYN News, December 1, 1980. [Back]

2 Zbaraz v. Quern, No. 77‑C4522 (N.D. Ill, Memo Opinion, June 13, 1978). [Back]

3 Irving Cushner, Professor of Obstetrics at the UCLA School of Medicine, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution of the United States on October 14, 1981, quoted in The Village Voice, July 16, 1985. [Back]

4 Calculations and references are contained in Excel spreadsheet F-03-01.XLS on The Facts of Life [Back]

5 Alan Guttmacher. "Abortion Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow." The Case for Legalized Abortion Now [Berkeley, California: Diablo Books], 1967, page 3. [Back]

6 Bernard Nathanson, M.D. Written statement to the Idaho House of Representatives' State Affairs Committee, 16 February 1990. Also quoted in "Exceptions: Abandoning "The Least of These My Brethren."" American Life League booklet, 1991, page 22. [Back]

7 Hymie Gordon, M.D., Director of Medical Genetics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, October 15, 1974. [Back]

8 Jasper Williams, Jr., M.D., Bernard Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, Past President of the National Medical Association, address of October 19, 1981. [Back]

9 Abortionist Michael Burnhill of the National Abortion Federation on the April 22, 1980 "MacNeil/Lehrer Report." Quoted in "Exceptions: Abandoning "The Least of These My Brethren."" American Life League booklet, 1991, page 24. [Back]

10 "Are Exception Clauses Pro‑Life?" ALL about Issues, July‑August 1987, pages 25 and 26. [Back]

11 Abortionist Jane Hodgson, transcript, August 3, 1977, at 99‑101, McRae v. Califano, 491 F.Supp. 630 (E.D.N.Y. 1980), rev'd sub nom. Harris v. McRae. 100 S. Ct. 2671 (1980). [Back]

12 Human Life International's Special Report Number 83, August 1991, pages 6 and 7. [Back]