What About the “Health of the Mother?”

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 For many abortion advocates, the life and health of the mother are commonly cited reasons to keep abortion legal, but what actually constitutes “health of the mother”?

The 1973 Supreme Court decision Doe v. Bolton states that “the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” 1 Whether it is stress, pressure from family, or a simple case of morning sickness, all of these are considered legitimate grounds for an abortion under current U.S. law. Essentially, a woman can have an abortion at any time, for any stated reason, and somehow it can be related to “health.” Even most people who identify as pro-choice would not agree with this ruling.

In fact, a May 2010 Gallup poll indicates that only 24% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, while 54% would allow it only under certain circumstances. 2 Unfortunately, the U.S. government refuses to draw any boundaries regarding circumstances for abortion.

So How Relevant is the “Health” Argument?

A 2004 study by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that only 4% of women who had an abortion cited concern for their own health as the primary reason for seeking an abortion. Maternal health concerns covered a broad range of “conditions,” including gestational diabetes and morning sickness, both of which are naturally occurring physiological reactions to pregnancy. Most commonly, women cited “feeling too ill during the pregnancy to work or take care of children” as their primary health concern. 3

The bottom line is that, yes, pregnancy affects a woman’s body. Morning sickness, weight gain, headaches, moodiness, swelling, and other reactions are all common parts of pregnancy, which is a natural and temporary state for the female body. Do these common symptoms of pregnancy (which apply to nearly all pregnancies) really constitute a risk to the mother’s “health”?

What About Life-Threatening Issues?

There are certainly cases where the mother’s life may be put at risk by pregnancy, such as in an ectopic pregnancy. These cases are extremely rare, and due to amazing advances in medical technology, are becoming more and more treatable.

Actual life-threatening issues involving pregnancy are vastly different than generic “health” issues. If any doctor tells you that a pregnancy is a risk to you and recommends an abortion, seek a second opinion. Keep in mind that some doctors fear the malpractice lawsuits associated with treating high-risk pregnancies, and are unwilling to take patients with complicated pregnancies. Fortunately, there are many doctors that specialize in high-risk pregnancies that can successfully treat both the mother and the unborn child as patients.


1Doe. v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973). IV(c).

2 Gallup. (2010). Retrieved August 6, 2010, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576 /abortion.aspx.

3 Finer, L., Frohwirth, L., et al. Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (Online), 37, p. 112, 114, 117. Retrieved 6 Aug. 2010, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/ journals/3711005.html