What About the "Health of the Mother?"

For many abortion advocates, the life and health of the mother are commonly cited reasons to keep abortion legal. As compassionate conversationalists, we must assume that this concern is coming from a place of genuine concern. Even so, a question we have to ask is: what constitutes the “life and health of the mother”?

The 1973 Supreme Court decision Doe v. Bolton states that “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 it can somehow be related to “health.” Even people who identify as pro-choice would not agree with this ruling.

In fact, a May 2019 Gallup poll indicates that only 25% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, while 53% 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?

According to a 2013 study, only 6% 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 other 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 that justifies killing the gestating child?

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, some 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 preborn child as patients.
For more on how to respond to this hard question, listen to pro-life apologist Josh Brahm’s take here.


  1. Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973). IV(c).
  2. Gallup. (2019). Retrieved 12 Aug. 2019, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx.
  3. Understanding why women seek abortions in the US M Antonia Biggs, Heather Gould, Diana Greene Foster BMC Womens Health. 2013; 13: 29. Published online 2013 Jul 5. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-13-29