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Judi's avatar

About the partial birth abortion issue...

Asked by Judi (39784points) October 16th, 2008

When McCain brought up the question of “health” of the mother Chris Matthews thought it was insulting to women. I’m a woman and a democrat, but it still made me want to know what “health” issues would someone legally be able to consider when contemplating a late term abortion. Non-life threatening health issues, in my mind should be off the table. Heck, a baby can survive when born at 6 months! What is the legal test for “health?” Are stretch marks “unhealthy?” How about depression, how severe must it be? This issue won’t make me vote for McCain, but I think the press (MSNBC anyway) was to quick to just write off the question. Any answers?

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12 Answers

shilolo's avatar

There are a number of pregnancy related conditions that threaten the health of the mother. I will list a few below (the first 3 are on a continuum with similar symptoms):
1. Preeclampsia, high blood pressure, kidney damage
2. Eclampsia, high blood pressure, kidney damage, seizures
3. HELLP syndrome, broken blood cells, liver failure, low platelets
4. Chorioamnionitis, an infection of the placenta and nearby membranes
5. Severe liver diseases that occur during pregancy

There may be more, but I’m not an obstetrician or perinatologist. The top three on the list are the most worrisome and most common.

Judi's avatar

But the question still is, LEGALLY, can someone site a health condition that would clear up after the child is born like gestational diabetes? How about the depression question? Every unwanted pregnancy is bound to result in a certain amount of depression. Is a health issue that could result in a LATE TERM abortion? If an early C section could still save the babies life could a mother refuse and be granted a late term abortion? Just questions here, I am more interested in the legal threshold than in the specific conditions unless they are spelled out in the law.

shilolo's avatar

Most doctors would be unwilling to allow manageable conditions to become subverted in that way. I don’t think there are too many women who wait that long (suffering through all the issues of pregancy) only to decide at 23 weeks that they don’t want a baby anymore. In most cases, there are either maternal or fetal issues (like severe birth defects) that lead to late term abortions.

Judi's avatar

But the real question is not what the WILL do it’s what the CAN do.
I noticed dale is crafting a response. Please put my mind at ease Dale!

dalepetrie's avatar

I’m probably not going to answer the question in the way you’re hoping, because I don’t know the answer specifically for what you asked. And though I’m not really sure what the actual legal status is at this point, what qualifies and what does not, and I get that what McCain was trying to say was that some go too far when they cite health issues as a reason not to vote for something like this. And I think that perhaps this is true…the tactic of keeping the door open works both ways.

But in my view, I don’t really think the charge that McCain tried to throw out there really applies to Obama. As I understand it, the Illinois bill was a redundant bill first off, which second of all if codified into law would have opened a legal door for a challenge to Roe v. Wade…when no rights were changed in any way, this was not a bill Obama could vote for. When the bill was modified to take that language out, as I understand it, there were NO protections for a woman’s health of any kind (including to save it), and to demonstrate that he was for what the bill was going to codify, but felt it needed some massaging, he voted present. That’s fair, that’s why the Illinois Legislature HAS a “present” option.

What I really think it boils down to is that the left and the right both agree that partial birth abortion is wrong. But whereas the left wants to make sure that any law that is put on the books does not force a person into a situation where the government decides their fate for them in the situation where it could have a serious detrimental outcome to the patient, in general they want to avoid codifying that. I’d say it’s very hard for people in Congress, not being by and large doctors, to anticipate every single circumstance which could come up where a fetus might need to be removed in a manner which might kill the fetus in order to prevent some grave consequence to the mother, whether that be death or some other fate which could seriously shorten the lifespan or be disasterous to the quality of life for the mother in the future. You can speculate all you want what that might be (total paralysis where the woman is also in constant searing pain might meet a person’s definition), but I think there’s a dificulty in trying to be too specific here.

That makes it a very hard issue to agree upon then, because it’s also very difficult to accept that one can not be specific enough. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing…if the Democrats won’t list out every single possibility to be put into the bill, and earn the approval of the Republicans on every last “what if”, McCain and co can level the charge that “health of the mother could mean temporary discomfort”...which is really no different than trying to claim that we’re forcing the government to pay for gold-plated cadillac health care that covers cosmetic surgery…it’s an extreme worst case, slippery slope kind of argument that has very little real world practical application.

But if the left goes down that road, and something comes up that no one saw coming, how do you get around that? Well you can’t because it’s not in the bill. The challenge is to create some sort of umbrella that says “while using a common sense approach to what is reasonable” the mother and doctor should be able to figure out if there is something about this pregnancy which if allowed to go to term would be severely detrimental to the future well being of the mother. We could draw a line in the sand with death, but let’s face it there are some medical problems which to many would be a fate worse than death.

I guess I don’t think it’s something where if you put in place some exceptions for the health of the mother in the case where the doctor thinks continuation of the pregnancy is going to be extremely detrimenental to the mother’s future health, and the mother is willing to make this sacrifice based on her doctor’s medical advice, then again, it brings the whole question back into the realm of it being a moral issue, which is something the individual should decide, not the government. I don’t think that worrying that someone is going to decide after carrying a baby for 6 months that suddenly they’re going to decide “I don’t want stretch marks, take it out and kill it.”

So I guess to answer your question as best I can, I don’t think specifically it is codified in the law banning the practice, and I don’t think it should be, but my hope would be (and I’d find it hard to believe that this is not the case) that the law is worded in such a way that balances the needs of the mother and the needs of the unborn child wherein intervention is still at least possible in the case of serious unforeseen complications, whatever they may be if they rise to the level where if both the doctor and the mother are aware of the options and the consequences of action vs. inaction, the mother can be trusted to make the right choice. And if she gets it wrong, we can also only hope that for every person who gets it wrong, having these protections in place that allowed her to get it wrong also allowed several other women the ability to get it right, rather than to have the government make the wrong decisions for them. And again, it’s a moral issue ultimately…if there is indeed a God and you do something He would not agree with, then you will have to answer to Him eventually, regardless of what the laws of man say.

But I agree with Chris Matthews and countless other pundits. The way in which McCain dismissed this issue, though I understand the concerns he was mounting as I’ve explained, was EXTREMELY disrespectful. To seek to demean the idea of “women’s health issues” by putting finger air quotes around it is completley disrespectful and dishonorable, and he should be ashamed. If he were competent or compassionate in any way, he could have made his point without being overtly hostile and disrespectful to the issue, he could have done so without completly seeking to dismiss even the suggestion of the possibility that there could ever be any legitimacy for seeking these kinds of protections for a woman’s health. For that, I say you should be MIGHTILY offended, as I know most women I’ve spoken to were.

Judi's avatar

Thanks for the explanation Dale. I am one of those Democrats who abhor abortion and would carry a child to term even if I thought I might die, in order to save the child’s life. I do however, respect that this is an agonizing and personal decision and would never judge a woman for making a decision different than mine. I would agonize with her, cry with her, and comfort her, and if asked encourage her to save the baby, but I would respect her decision and respect the agonizing process she went through to come to her decision. I have a harder time with late term abortion. It’s harder for me to understand a mother putting her own life ahead of the baby, but I can stretch my mind to her “life.” I have a lot more trouble stretching it to “health” especially when the parameters are not defined. Most of my politics are pretty left leaning, but here I feel like I am more in the center. My daughter is pregnant now and I remember when she called me and said, “If I were to have the baby now the chances are high that it would survive outside of the womb.” I don’t remember exactly how far along she was but I remember being amazed because she was barely showing! This is a really tough issue, and it’s one where I can sort of understand the conservative point of view.

shilolo's avatar

@Judi. I don’t know any women who have gone through abortions without significant angst. The issue of health however is pressing. If you are the mother of 3 children (for example), and during your 4th pregnancy you develop a disease that threatens your life, what are you to do? Roll the dice that things will work out for the potential 4th baby and your family or terminate the pregnancy? Say you take that chance and die. What happens to your other children who are now left motherless and your husband who now has to become a single parent and grieving widower? I’m not trying to be dramatic, but the circumstance I describe is easily imagined.

Judi's avatar

That’s why it’s such a tough question. Makes my heart ache.

dalepetrie's avatar

My stance on it has always been to side with science. Science essentially has two terms for a potential human life. Up to 20 weeks of gestation, we refer to that entity as an “embryo”, the definition of that carries with it the connotation of viability outside the womb…up to 20 weeks, not possible. After 20 weeks that “embryo” becomes a “fetus” which is not to say that it automatically would survive outside the womb, but that it theoretically could, though I think 24 weeks is about the most science has been able to accomplish, unless something has happened that I’m not aware of.

So I never bought into trimesters as a definition, I’ve looked at it as first half/second half. I have no moral qualms about abortion in the first half. I do have moral qualms about abortion in the second half. But my primary goal is to minimize human suffering altogether. So I have to be a little conditional and say, I don’t know what would make ME make that decision, but I would not agree with say drowning the aborted infant rather than keeping it on life support if it had to come out of the mother to ensure her health/life…though if the greater overall good involved choosing between two lives, I think that’s an agonizing personal moral decision for the mother to have to say “is my life worth more than your potential?” I would say most would have a very difficult time making that decision, but we shouldn’t deny them that right. I definitely don’t think though that you should end a life for your own convenience, and that to me is what is implied in the way McCain dismissed Obama’s response to that question.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I don’t think third trimester abortions are very common.

Judi's avatar

That’s when I would be happy that I have a great network of friends (a village) that I know would take care of my family.

patt2745's avatar

Judi, you sound like a very responsible person who does not take the situation lightly, but the problem is with the thousands of poorly reared, possibly drug-using, uneducated, irresponsible people out there who give no more consideration to birthing or aborting a child than picking out a pair of shoes. How do you save the lives of children they decide are not convenient to their promiscuous lifestyles and will abort late term or at any time their abusive husband/boyfriend gets drunk and decides he doesn’t like the idea of being a father?

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