General Question

BhacSsylan's avatar

How is it permissible to let a woman die rather then perform an abortion?

Asked by BhacSsylan (9520points) February 22nd, 2011

So, I’ve been in a few debates recently on Fluther about the various republican bills trying to make their way through congress, but one hasn’t come up as much: H.R. 358 or the “Protect Life Act”. Currently, EMTALA states that a hospital can refuse to give an abortion on ‘conscience’ terms. However, they must get the woman to where she can be treated. HR 358 would remove the stipulation, and make it so a hospital can simply toss the woman out on the street.

Now, here comes the real question. I had thought this was ridiculous, really. Who would let a woman die like that? So I had somewhat ignored it. However, apparently this is not the case. Middle of last year, a nun was excommunicated for allowing a life-saving abortion to be performed.

So my question, dear flutherites: how is this possibly morally defensible? How can letting a woman, only in her first trimester, and with an “almost 100% chance of death” from heart failure die, be the morally correct choice?

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26 Answers

BBSDTfamily's avatar

The only example I know of where a woman could die is from a tubal pregnancy, and I don’t see that as an abortion since it’s not a viable pregnancy anyway. Terminating that pregnancy is simply a procedure to save the woman’s life.

I don’t see how a woman can be presumed to die because of heart failure due to pregnancy, and it seems there are so many heart medications that it could have been avoided.

cockswain's avatar

I don’t see any way how one can make the argument that letting the woman die was the right thing to do.

gorillapaws's avatar

The only moral theory that I can think of that would operate this way is Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Basically, if abortion is wrong, than it is categorically wrong in all cases (even those where it would seem to be absurd). This scenario reminds me of the “Jews in the Attic” moral dilemma which is typically used to demonstrate that Kant’s theory is broken, so it’s highly suspect, even on the most generous interpretation.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@BBSDTfamily There are things like eclampsia (which is life threatening to the woman) that are pregnancy induced and the only cure for them is the ending of the pregnancy (via birth of the baby or abortion if necessary). Also, if the woman had any kind of previous heart condition, the demands pregnancy puts on the body could put her life at risk, depending on how bad her heart condition was (I’m talking about serious heart conditions, not just high blood pressure types of things).

Personally, I don’t see how it can be done since ER’s aren’t suppose to turn away a patient when their life is on the line. ER’s are suppose to get the person stable before they are allowed to discharge them or transfer them to another facility for care, so I don’t see how they could put someone that was in a life threatening situation out on the street in any way, shape, or form. The abortion part of it is just a small part of the situation and too me, it seems like allowing a hospital in an emergent situation to start putting patients out on the street for one reason or another is just opening the door for other reasons to come up in the future to allow hospitals to deny care in life threatening situations.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@Seaofclouds EMTALA, as far as I am aware, does allow conscience objections to certain procedures, abortion being one (and maybe the only one). But again, they must get the patient to a place where they can be stabilized.

@BBSDTfamily The woman’s heart was failing, and medicines can only do so much. If it was only ever a case of medication, we’d never need to do bypasses, or other surgeries to save a life from heart failure. This was also her fifth pregnancy, and that tends to wear on a person’s systems, IIRC. That “almost 100% chance of death” was what was reported by the doctors on the scene.

crisw's avatar

It’s not permissible.


There areseveral conditions besides tubal pregnancy and the eclampsia that @Seaofclouds mentioned that can kill or severely sicken a pregnant woman unless she has an abortion. These include HELLP syndrome and gestational hypertension,

BBSDTfamily's avatar

I am pregnant right now, so all of you are scaring me! Seriously though, I didn’t know there were so many things that could go wrong. My opinion is that if the baby’s life absolutely cannot be saved along with the mother’s, then the mother’s life should come first. Especially if she has other children at home who need their mother.

Pandora's avatar

The article doesn’t say much as to what kind of heart condition did she suffer from. But I would think with all the new medical procedures done today, that maybe they feel something could’ve been done that could save both mother and the fetus and they are probably just covering their assets. :)
Blaming the administrator is the easiest way to release themselves from liablility and at the same time perserve their stand on abortion.
As for the topic of refusing to do abortions and turning patients away without seeking help for them, I think that is discusting. What would it take really to send someone to another hospital.
That really seems pathetic and I have to agree with @Seaofclouds. It seems like they are simply trying to open the door for reasons to refuse patient care.
I think hospitals that turn patients away shouldn’t even be allowed to call themselves hospitals.
Call themselve the sometimes medical station or chop shop.
The word hospital should be reserved just for real hospitals so that patients know what to expect when they enter the door.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@BhacSsylan Yes, they can refuse to do the abortion (through EMTALA) right now, but they have to get the woman to a facility that can properly treat her, just as any other hospital would for any other life threatening situation if they weren’t equipped to handle what you needed (such as neurosurgery or a specialized burn unit). I don’t mind that part, it’s the part about putting someone out on the street when they are in a life threatening situation that bothers me. What’s after saying they can put patients that are dying and need an abortion out on the street? Patients that don’t have insurance? Patients that need a surgery they can’t perform at their hospital (instead of sending them to another facility), so that they just don’t have to deal with it?

@BBSDTfamily I’m sorry we are scaring you. I was induced at 36 weeks with my son because of pre-eclampsia. I was lucky that they caught it before it developed into full eclampsia, but if they wouldn’t have induced me (thus ending the pregnancy), I could have died. It sucked, but everything worked out fine in the long run and my son will be turning 9 tomorrow. :)

BBSDTfamily's avatar

What kind of facility would really refuse performing an abortion in order to save the woman’s life? If she dies, the baby is going to die anyway so it makes no sense!

crisw's avatar


A lot of it is passive versus active ethics. In some ethical systems, it’s seen as OK to let the mother die because you aren’t doing anything, yourself (or as an organization) to cause her to die- it’s “natural” or “God’s will.”. On the other hand, if you perform an abortion, these people see it as actively killing a person, and thus morally worse.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@BBSDTfamily @crisw got it before i did. That’s the crux. It’s god’s will, and god yet may save her! So letting her die is fine. But actively ‘killing’ the child, even in an almost sure-death scenario for the mother, is seen as worse.

@Pandora I would maybe believe that if the bishop who excommunicated her had cared at all her. He said, and I quote, she is “automatically excommunicated” for allowing an abortion. I doubt he knew anything more about it.

@Seaofclouds Thanks for backing that up, i admit I haven’t read EMTALA and have gotten my knowlege of it elsewhere. But yeah, HR 358 would specifically allow them to do absolutely nothing.

gorillapaws's avatar

@crisw That’s a good point that I hadn’t considered. I haven’t studied this these moral systems very much. Under such a system, is it morally permissible to allow another to die that you are capable of saving (assuming no other moral forces involved)?

Zaku's avatar

I am disturbed by people whose morality is violent and oppressive to others, but I like to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs and traditions that I may not understand, and let them live as they choose.

But these fucktards are Americans who are trying to stuff it down everyone else’s throats, and kill people, prevent others from having health care, etc and make species go extinct etc. I am so fed up with them. I want them to secede and form their own fucktarded right-wing confederacy or whatever, so the rest of us can live without having to deal with their oppression and BS.

everephebe's avatar

It’s not morally defensible. It may theologically defensible in someone’s mind, but that would take the logic out of theological, if there was any there to begin with.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

@crisw That makes sense.

ETpro's avatar

As the OP notes, House Republicans are pushing HR 358 that would allow hospitals to refuse life-giving care if the fetus would be harmed. It would exempt hospitals that make that choice from any liability, even if both mother and fetus die because of their decision of conscience. And it would further exempt such hospitals from having to get the woman to a place where she could receive life-saving care.

Republicans in South Dakota are pushing through a law that gives anyone remotely related to a woman the legal right to kill anyone they reasonably believe to be preparing to threaten the life of a fetus. This is legalized terrorism aimed squarely at all abortion providers.

The new GOP wants to shrink the size of government till it fits in your bedroom, Welcome to the Tea Party GOP. The Teahadist are on the move and they plan to institute their vision of sharia law built on their understanding of the Bible. Apparently “Thou shalt not kill/” applies only to those still in the womb in their version of the Bible.

cockswain's avatar

Obviously that won’t make it through the Senate, but abhorrent that they would waste time with such a stunt when there are far more pressing issues in the nation.

crisw's avatar


I am not a believer in this distinction myself, of course. I see it as primarily a Catholic doctrine. As I understand it, you should not let someone die if you can save them without killing someone else. But the active injunction not to kill is seen as superseding the duty to save a life. This is one explanation I found-
“The first express and absolute disapproval of therapeutic abortion came from Pope Pius XI in the encyclical “Cash connubii”. Accordingly, the medical and therapeutic indications are plainly rejected as a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent’. This position was adopted by both Pope Pius XII and Paul VI.
Thus for the Catholic Church abortion is simply the direct killing of the innocent which is immoral and forbidden under any circumstance whatsoever. ”

gorillapaws's avatar

@crisw “you should not let someone die if you can save them without killing someone else.”

It’s interesting that this belief system can compel one to act (instead of leaving it up to God’s will) in some circumstances but then forbid it in others, but still relying on the same meta-justification: God’s Will. I wonder if it’s internally consistent logically.

Thanks for educating me. It’s been a while since I’ve studied moral theory, but it’s always been a subject of interest for me.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@gorillapaws It’s very strange, and I won’t admit to understanding it. The main problem is that it’s not somehow divorced from consequences, but the dogma treats it like it is. It’s not simply “Do or Do not kill this baby”, it’s we can’t be absolutely 100% sure this baby will die (since god may intervene. Not making this up, btw), so doing the abortion is still murder. Regardless of the impact on the mother. It’s just… strange. They don’t include the mother in the calculation anywhere. How that somehow is logically consistent I do not know. I sorta wish Nullo would weigh in, but I feel like he has enough sense not to walk into a furnace, unfortunately.

I’m also, of course, stacking the deck in their favor by calling it a ‘baby’. But that’s a different discussion.

Edit: Apparently Saint Augustine, at least, said that killing in self defense was morally objectionable. So at least that’s consistent. Not sure if the church at large agrees, though. Haven’t heard of anyone being excommunicated for it.

ETpro's avatar

@crisw That’s the word of Pope Pius XI.. It is in conflict with the word of the God he claimed to represent on Earth. In the Bible it specifically says “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart [from her], and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges [determine].” Deut. 21:22.

It’s considered a property crime to be repaid, not murder. Guess the Pope knows a lot more than God about this. I wonder if that scripture is edited out of the Catholic Bible like so many others are.

mattbrowne's avatar

People who are not concerned about born life cannot be serious about their views on the protection of unborn life. People who don’t support health insurance for everyone including pregnant mothers are not serious about protecting unborn life. Some might even call it hypocrisy.

cockswain's avatar

Matt, stop. You’re making too much sense.

Nullo's avatar

Easy. The subject views the unborn life as being worth more than the one doing the supporting.

This is one of the very few cases where I’d call abortion a valid option. In the case of the unwanted pregnancy, life outweighs convenience. Here, the scales are balanced, since we presume lives to be of equal value. They can’t both live, and the worst-case scenario has them both dying.

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