Treating Ectopic Pregnancies in A Pro-Life Culture | Opinion

Two years ago, my very-pro-life sister-in-law nearly lost her life due to an ectopic pregnancy. Her little embryo lodged in her fallopian tube instead of her uterus and, at only the seventh week of pregnancy, her tube ruptured. Blood spilled into her abdominal cavity, causing excruciating pain and bringing her to the brink of death. A distinguished lawyer in Washington, D.C., a loving wife and devoted mother of three daughters, she was rushed to the hospital. There, doctors removed the embryo and the ruptured tube—and saved her life, though it took many months before she fully recovered.

Her story is a snapshot of what ectopic pregnancy treatment looks like in a perfectly pro-life setting. It refutes the disingenuous pro-choice talking point that women suffering miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies will be put at risk in a post-Roe v. Wade world.

You see, my brother and sister-in-law strive to live their lives according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, including its teaching on the moral significance of human life from conception to natural death. For them, their tiny embryo was a son or daughter whose life was precious. For OB-GYN care, she specifically chose a provider who also believes that every human life is to be treasured and that elective abortion is a grave evil. My sister-in-law wanted a doctor who would honor and respect the nascent life inside of her as much as she and that little one's father did.

In short, she, her husband, and her doctors proceeded through the crisis from a purely pro-life moral position. And yet, she received the same treatment that any woman would have received: the surgical termination of her pregnancy. Why? Because the medical treatment for ectopic pregnancy is not an elective abortion. An elective abortion has, as its central purpose, the ending of the life of the embryo or fetus and is performed electively (that is, for social or personal reasons). Surgery or medical treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is not "elective." It's absolutely necessary. Its object is not the death of the embryo but the saving of the mother. The embryo is, in fact, already doomed by his or her location, and the mother will almost surely die if the pregnancy is not ended as quickly as possible.

abortion protest
Abortion rights activists demonstrate in front of the White House in Washington, DC on July 09, 2022. - The US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion, sparking protest nationwide. ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP/Getty Images

You would hardly know all this—all this medical and moral nuance—if all you hear is the drumbeat of pro-choice activists since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision. Against all evidence to the contrary, they're out insisting that the lives of pregnant women with ectopic pregnancies and other potentially fatal conditions will be endangered in states that limit elective abortion. This dangerous misinformation is a complete fallacy.

Sometimes the misinformation comes through the fudging of language. The colloquial use of the term abortion—as in "abortions in Florida will be restricted after 15 weeks of pregnancy"—refers to elective abortions, which are those abortions chosen for reasons such as the timing of the pregnancy or the baby's "wrong sex." When a doctor tells her patient that she needs emergency treatment for her ectopic pregnancy, for instance, the doctor never calls it an abortion. Why? Because the elective ending of a normal pregnancy is not the same as the ending of an ectopic pregnancy by the fallopian tube's surgical removal (salpingectomy). Nor is it the same as the surgical or medical interventions necessary to save the life of a woman experiencing a spontaneous miscarriage, such as Dilation and Curettage (D&C).

It's also misinformation for another reason: every state law that limits abortion includes an exception to save the life of the mother. Any procedure performed to save the mother's life—the surgery that saved my sister in law's life or the completion by D&C of a spontaneous miscarriage in progress—is automatically exempt from any abortion restrictions. This exemption "to save the life of the mother" is made explicit to guard against any confusion of terminology and to ensure that there is no time gap between the mother's urgent need for treatment and delivery of the treatment.

Despite the alarmist pro-choice rhetoric, Americans can rest assured that limiting elective abortion will not put expectant mothers in danger. Indeed, even in situations where the most sensitive respect for nascent human life is exercised, necessary life-saving treatments are always considered ethical and moral. They are also explicitly legal. Even when, as in the case of my pro-life sister-in-law, they result in the death of the embryo or fetus. Rhetoric to the contrary is dangerous and irresponsible.

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

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