Elective Abortion Undermines Medicine's Core Philosophy | Opinion

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case that will determine the fate of Mississippi's ban on elective abortion after 15 weeks. Most of the arguments in support of Mississippi's law focus on the obvious humanity of the child at that stage and the injustice of allowing their elective termination. But the state raises another important motive in its brief: protecting the integrity of the medical profession.

Mississippi argues that the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 inflicted "severe damage" on the medical profession. As a practicing physician whose youngest and most vulnerable patients are fetuses, I agree. It's one reason that I joined two other female doctors—a neonatologist and an OB-GYN—in a friend of the court brief urging the Court to uphold Mississippi's limit on elective abortions after 15 weeks of gestation.

In its brief, Mississippi pointed out that abortions performed after 15 weeks "involve the use of surgical instruments to crush and tear the unborn child apart before removing the pieces of the dead child from the womb." Engaging in this "barbaric practice" for non-therapeutic reasons, the state said, is "demeaning to the profession." Unlike the general public, involved medical staff cannot turn a blind eye to the detritus of a late-term abortion—the body parts of what is so obviously a small human person. Being educated in anatomy and embryology, they cannot pretend that these are only "products of conception," a favorite euphemism of the abortion industry. Limits like the Mississippi law protect physicians and other staff from exposure to this cruel practice.

This is all true, but I would go further. Asking medical professionals to perform elective abortion right up until birth undermines the philosophy that undergirds and protects Western medicine: the Hippocratic tradition.

In Hippocratic medicine, our role as physicians is to serve every patient according to our best medical judgement, promoting his or her health and well being to the best of our ability. We must do no harm to a patient, no matter their status or societal "worth." That is why Hippocratic medicine rejects euthanasia and abortion, whether they're undertaken for personal gain or out of sympathy for someone's pain or unhappiness. In this tradition, every life is valuable, every patient worth saving.

Anti-abortion protest Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: Anti-abortion activists unroll a petition to end abortion during a demonstration outside of the Supreme Court on October 04, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court's new term, which started today is expected to take up contentious issues including an abortion rights case that is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

In the United States, elective abortion has been one of the great exceptions to Hippocratic medicine. Roe warped the medical profession by establishing in law the hideous idea that a person can be at once a valuable patient, the object of all our care and skill, and the victim of a purposeful killing. This double-minded thinking has seeped into our medical schools and our professional associations; it has infiltrated the sacred space between patient and doctor, where nothing but trust should abide. Roe casts a long, dark shadow over a profession whose members entered it answering a noble call—the call to heal the sick and protect the vulnerable, to embrace and accompany suffering souls.

The state has a profound interest in protecting the integrity of the medical profession. Doing so also protects our patients—both mothers and their unborn children. The Hippocratic tradition calls on us to embrace both the mother and the child in our care, not to set them against each other. We help the baby as best we can to be born healthy and strong, and we help the mother adjust to the new little stranger temporarily sheltered inside of her. Through the practice of medicine and attentive accompaniment, by educating a mother about her growing child and what to expect on their journey together, we do our best to pull them both through safely.

Physicians have resisted the debasement of our vocation that Roe has occasioned. Decades after that decision, more than 80 percent of all U.S. obstetricians/gynecologists still refuse to perform abortions. In my own work as a fetal radiologist, I act and speak always of my "littlest patients," my vulnerable, voiceless and immensely valuable patients. When I have the chance, I invite their mothers to marvel with me at the miracle happening inside them. The endearing profile and the waving of tiny limbs we see on ultrasound allow us to witness the wonder of human development—the issue that's ultimately at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson.

Many who are with me in the medical profession across the country hope that the Supreme Court will, at long last, allow states to protect their littlest patients from the cruelty of elective late abortions and protect their caregivers from being exposed to the demeaning practice.

It's time to restore the honorable, life-affirming ethics of the medical profession, bringing it out from Roe's dark shadow and into the warm light.

Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D. is a Senior Fellow for The Catholic Association.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.