Abortion clinic workers have acknowledged the “elective” nature of their trade for years. Dr. Warren Hern, whose 1984 book Abortion Practice is the standard medical teaching text on late-term abortion procedures, writes:

A study of motivations for abortion has found that the majority are sought for socioeconomic reasons. Women seeking abortions seldom give the real reason for doing so to investigators studying the issue. The impression from clinical practice is that all but a few women seek abortions for reasons that can broadly be defined as socioeconomic, and many cite strictly economic reasons. . . . As a rule, women do not make decisions about pregnancy prevention or treatment on the basis of statistical evaluations and medical advice but rather on the basis of personal attitudes and necessities. At times medical considerations enter into the picture, but decisions are usually made on the basis of such factors as desire or lack of desire for parenthood, stability of relationships, educational status, emotional status, or economic status, among others.11

Suppose, however, that the pregnancy does in fact pose a grave threat to the mother’s life. What is the morally correct way to proceed?

Ectopic pregnancy (EP) is a clear case in point. With EP, the developing human embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, usually on the inner wall of the fallopian tube. This is an extremely dangerous situation for the mother. When the EP outgrows the limits of the narrow fallopian tube enclosing it, the tube bursts, resulting in massive internal hemorrhaging. In fact, EP is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death during the first trimester.12 The accepted medical protocols in this case are to end the pregnancy through chemical (Methotrexate) or surgical intervention.13 There is no way the developing human can survive EP. If the mother dies from internal bleeding, the embryo dies also, given he’s too young to survive on his own. At the same time, the limits of current medical technology do not allow transfer to a more suitable environment. Despite our best intentions, we simply can’t save the child.

What is the greatest moral good we can achieve in this situation? Is it best to do nothing and let two humans (likely) die, or is it best to act in such a way that we save one life even though the unintended and unavoidable consequence of acting is the death of the human embryo?

Pro-life advocates almost universally agree we should do the latter. It is better to save one life than lose two. Notice, however, that the intent of the physician is not to directly kill the embryo but to save the mother’s life. The unintended and unavoidable consequence of that lifesaving act is the death of the embryo. Perhaps in the future we can transplant the embryo to a more desirable location. If that day comes, we should do that. But for now, ending the pregnancy is our only course of action. If we do nothing, both mother and child die. It’s best that one should live. But again, notice that the intent in ending the pregnancy is to save the mother, not directly and purposefully to kill the child.14

As for other alleged threats to the mother’s life, few are truly life-threatening. Most can be managed with proper physician oversight. Dr. Thomas Murphy Goodwin oversees the largest high-risk pregnancy clinic in the United States, averaging between fifteen thousand to sixteen thousand births annually. Excluding cases diagnosed late in pregnancy, only one or two cases a year pose an immediate lethal threat to the mother’s life. Goodwin writes that even women suffering from cancer can often be treated with chemotherapy, and the fetus tolerates the treatment.15


Again, whenever you hear an argument for elective abortion, stop and ask this question: Would this justification for killing the unborn work for killing a toddler? If not, your critic is assuming that the unborn aren’t human, a point for which he needs to argue. Trot out your toddler to expose the hidden (and perhaps unrecognized) assumptions in the argument.