Americans should be concerned about the future of women’s health in New York State. In an effort to push a radically pro-abortion bill through the state legislature before the end of its session on June 20, Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally released the terms of his “Women’s Equality Act.”
Though he kept the details of this ten-point plan unsettled for months, we now know that the WEA will permit abortions after twenty-four weeks—a time when a significant number of babies are able to survive outside the womb—simply to preserve the mother’s “health,” a term that is nebulous at best.
This move is both unnecessary for and harmful to women’s health. Why unnecessary? New York law already permits late-term abortions to save the life of the mother. Even in those cases, we’ll argue, abortion is never absolutely necessary to save the life of the mother, let alone her “health.” And why harmful? The WEA will invite more women to undergo needlessly a procedure fraught with immediate and long-term risks.
Late-Term Abortions Aren’t Necessary for Women’s Health
Abortion advocates prefer to cite rare grave medical conditions as reasons that would justify late abortion, such as pulmonary hypertension, cancer, or cardiovascular abnormalities. But many obstetricians disagree, based on their training and experience.
Dr. Mary Davenport, for example—past president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG)—has argued in her article “Is Late-Term Abortion Ever Necessary?” that it is not. If an unborn child is already viable, she questions, why does the mother need to end her pregnancy through late abortion in order to save her life or protect her health?
“With any serious maternal health problem,” she argues, both mother and baby can be saved by inducing labor or performing a C-section. Chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer can either be postponed till viability, or the mother can opt for a schedule of treatment that will be better tolerated by the child.
Surveys of late-abortion patients, she also notes, show that most late abortions happen because of a delayed pregnancy diagnosis or for the same, non-medical reasons for early abortions, such as relationship troubles or financial difficulties.
Consider too these four cases evaluated by Dr. Thomas Goodwin, where ill pregnant women successfully sought alternative treatments for their conditions instead of the abortions recommended to them. All four women delivered healthy children (although one died a week after birth from an infection).
One of these women was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor she saw prior to Goodwin presented her with two difficult alternatives: She could either abort the baby, saving her own life, or risk progression of her cancer by delaying treatment that could potentially harm the baby. Goodwin provided her with more complete information that expanded her options: He gave her published evidence that pregnancy is not affected by breast cancer, and that chemotherapy for breast cancer can be well-tolerated by an unborn child, even if long-term negative effects are a possibility.
Based on his experience as an obstetrician specializing in maternal fetal medicine, Goodwin believes that doctors unnecessarily refer similar patients for abortion far too often. They do so to avoid possible penalties for later complications, because while they are not liable for a “wrongful abortion,” they are liable for a “wrongful birth.”
Yet whether or not a pregnant woman is suffering from a serious illness, it is by no means certain that late-term abortion is a better alternative to live birth by induced labor or C-section.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician who formerly performed abortions, has testified that when a mother’s life is truly in danger, delivery by C-section is actually the safer option. Late abortions can take up to three days to complete, but in emergency situations, he says, “the doctor more often than not doesn’t have 36 hours, much less 72 hours, to resolve the problem. ... In most such cases, any attempt to perform an abortion ‘to save the mother’s life’ would entail undue and dangerous delay in providing appropriate, truly life-saving care.”
Dr. Anne Nolte, a physician specializing in women’s health and infertility and practicing at the Gianna Center in Manhattan, has also argued that after twenty-four weeks it is safer for the mother to undergo live birth than it is to experience an abortion.
Still, pro-choice doctors have long argued the contrary—that late-term abortions risk the mother’s life less than live deliveries do. But as AAPLOG revealed in a February 2012 report, it’s impossible to make any accurate comparison of maternal mortality rates and abortion mortality rates. According to the report, state health clinics and the Centers for Disease Control receive reports that drastically underrepresent abortion-related deaths because
1) abortion reporting is not required by federal law and many states do not report abortion-related deaths to the CDC;
2) deaths due to medical and surgical treatments are reported under the complication of the procedure (e.g., infection) rather than the treatment (e.g., induced abortion);
3) most women leave abortion clinics within hours of the procedure and go to hospital emergency rooms if there are complications that may result in death;
4) suicide deaths are rarely, if ever, linked back to abortion in state reporting of death rates;
5) an abortion experience can lead to physical and/or psychological disturbances that increase the likelihood of dying years after the abortion, and these indirect abortion-related deaths are not captured at all.
However, even if we don’t know how many abortion-related deaths occur each year, we do know that late abortions put the mother at greater risk of medical complications than do early abortions. These complications—such as hemorrhage, infection, and uterine perforations—markedly increase with each week of a pregnancy.
In addition to the physical risks of late-term abortion, there is also psychopathology associated with abortion, including substance use and abuse, suicidal behaviors, and depression and anxiety. Women may also experience general feelings of guilt, regret, or loss without a specific psychiatric diagnosis.
All this said, why then do we need a law to remove any obstacles to a procedure that would end a child’s life needlessly and risk the mother’s? Especially when it’s possible to save the lives of both mother and baby while presenting fewer risks to the mother’s long-term physical and mental health?
New Yorkers Don’t Need or Want More Abortion Access
Proponents of the WEA have claimed that it won’t increase abortions. They argue that it would merely “update” state abortion law by destroying any restrictions not included in federal abortion law.
New York, however, has some of the world’s highest abortion figures in one of the world’s most liberal abortion regimes.
The state has twice the national average of abortions (37.6 as opposed to 19.6 out of every 1000 women have had an abortion), and the highest national average of teen abortions (63 percent of pregnancies in New York City’s 15 – 19 year olds end in abortion).
New York also lacks some of the most common abortion restrictions found in other states, including waiting periods, parental involvement, and limits on public funding for abortion.
Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it seems doubtful that after forty-three years of legalized, frequent abortion, Cuomo’s law making abortion permissible up to the day of birth will result in fewer abortions overall.
Moreover, New York State voters don’t want what Cuomo is trying to force on them. According to a poll conducted in February by the Chiaroscuro Foundation, 80 percent of New Yorkers oppose “unlimited abortion through nine months of pregnancy” and 75 percent oppose “changes in current law so that someone other than a doctor can perform an abortion.” Seventy-eight percent approve having a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion, and 76 percent approve parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.
Clearly, Cuomo’s plan runs directly counter to the will of the majority who elected him, and counter to a large majority at that.
It is also misleading to say that the WEA would “update” existing law. By moving abortion from criminal law to public health law, the WEA would change the very nature of abortion law. It will repeal several abortion-related crimes from New York’s penal law. One practical consequence of this change: Someone who has murdered a pregnant woman and the child she is carrying cannot be convicted of a double homicide.
Conclusion: A Superfluous and Dangerous Law
Cuomo’s law is an open invitation to future Kermit Gosnells seeking safety. Remember that Gosnell was only convicted of murder in cases where he killed babies outside the womb, not those in which he killed them while they were still in utero. And he snipped their spinal cords because he wasn’t skilled enough to finish the job in utero. Other abortionists who can accomplish their gruesome task (read the Levitano testimony for a description) before the baby exits the womb will be able to continue their practice without fear of penalty. They will be welcomed with benevolence by Cuomo, who has sanctioned the most distressing site for both pregnant women and their unborn children: the abattoir.
In closing, consider again how needless (and, to be blunt, ludicrous) Cuomo’s WEA will be. In the rare cases where abortion may seem a necessary option to preserve the mother’s health, there will be an alternative that can save both mother and baby. “Terminating a pregnancy” needn’t involve abortion, especially when abortion risks the physical and psychological health of women. By subjecting New York women to a law based on ideology, not sound science, Cuomo is guaranteeing these women not a right to health, but a right to a dead baby.
Gabrielle Speach is the managing editor of Public Discourse. Elissa Sanchez-Speach, MD, is a family physician in private practice in Rochester, New York.