Often in the discussion over abortion it is argued that denying women abortion is a denial of healthcare. Hence, any laws which prevent access to abortion and any conscience rights for medical staff in places where abortion is freely available are taken to be realities that are contrary to providing healthcare for women. But we must interrogate this notion.
There are certain cases wherein pregnancy so severely impacts a woman’s health that her life is in danger, for instance an ectopic pregnancy. In such cases, the direct intention by which the medical staff act to care for the mother is to bring her to a state of health given a threat to her life. The direct intention is not to end the life of the child, since if by some sophisticated medical technology the child could survive the treatment that treatment would not be a failure simply for that; it would only be a failure if the mother’s health were not restored. In such circumstances it is clear that the health of the mother is the concern, and the termination of the pregnancy is an unintended consequence of the action. However, it is not clear how abortion as the direct and intentional killing of the unborn is healthcare. This is because, when acting to end the life of the child, the action is not directed at the health of the mother but at the termination of the child. Hence if the child were to survive such a procedure it would be a failure, in which case we have a situation quite contrary to the healthcare case.
Given what we have said, abortion as the direct and intentional killing of the child cannot be categorised as healthcare, precisely because such an action (i) does not target the mother’s health but the child’s life and (ii) the death of the child is essential to a successful abortion whereas it is not essential to the restoration of the mother’s health – though of course the child can die as an unintended circumstance of an action to restore health, but this doesn’t have to happen (and with greater medical sophistication one hopes that at some point in the future it will not happen). Therefore, without a clear articulation why one would think abortion is healthcare, it’s designation as such cannot be justified.
Dr Gaven Kerr