Ectopic pregnancies, miscarriage: Abortion ‘never necessary,’ these doctors say

Photo: Dr Raviele



Katie Yoder

By Katie Yoder

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 3, 2022 / 04:00 am

Abortion — a procedure with the sole or primary intent and purpose of ending human life in the womb — is never medically necessary, according to medical experts.

Three doctors spoke with CNA about the necessity of abortion, or lack of it, following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Following that decision, several myths circulated its impact, including the claim that women will die without access to abortion in cases of ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and other dangerous situations.

In these situations, medical experts either call abortion irrelevant or emphasize that women can choose life-affirming alternatives. 

Abortion, they say, is “never necessary” while caring for both mother and baby. Understanding this begins with understanding what abortion is — and is not.

What is “abortion”?

Procedures used to perform abortion are not abortions in and of themselves. The definition of abortion includes intent and purpose.

Dr. Kathleen Raviele, an OB-GYN and the former president of the Catholic Medical Association, the largest association of Catholic individuals in health care, called abortion a “direct attack on an embryo or fetus by surgery or chemicals with the intention of ending the life of the baby.”

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiology specialist and a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, an organization dedicated to defending religious liberty, life, and the Church in the public square, also pointed to the importance of intent.

Abortion, she said, “colloquially means the purposeful ending of a human life.”

Dr. Donna Harrison, an OB-GYN and the CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), cited the definition that she said is used by a majority of state laws. 

Abortion, or elective abortion, here, “is defined as any drug, device or procedure used to terminate a pregnancy for the primary purpose of ensuring the death of the human being in utero before, during, or in the process of separation of the mother and her embryo or fetus,” she said.  

Is abortion ever necessary to save a woman’s life?

Christie said that abortion, defined as the purposeful ending of a human life, is “never medically necessary.” 

“In certain circumstances, lifesaving treatment that involves the early interruption of a pregnancy may be indicated,” she said. “In this case, the intent is not to end the life of the baby but to save the mother, and this intent is manifest in the fact that a physician would make every effort to preserve the life of a preterm baby where possible.”

Likewise, Raviele stressed that an abortion “is never necessary to save the life of the mother.” And, she added, a large majority of abortions are “for convenience” rather than life-threatening situations.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, just 7% of women cited their physical health or the problems affecting the health of their unborn baby as their “most important reason” for an abortion in 2004. 

For her part, Harrison called attention to the difference between elective abortions — or abortions induced for no medical reason — and the separation of the mother and her unborn child to save the mother’s life.


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“It’s not semantics. It’s human rights,” she said. “It’s the difference between doctors making difficult decisions to save both patients if possible or at least to save one as compared to abortion providers taking it upon themselves to end the life of their most vulnerable patient for no medical reason.”

Do women need abortion for ectopic pregnancies?

Ectopic pregnancies occur when an embryo implants outside the uterus or womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. Once implanted, the embryo’s growth is likely to rupture the fallopian tube. 

Ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening for the mother and the baby’s chance of survival is highly unlikely. While relatively rare, the rate of ectopic pregnancies may be as high as 2% of all U.S. pregnancies, according to data available from the CDC. 

Raviele said that, by the time an ectopic pregnancy has been identified, the unborn baby is dead in 90% of the cases. In this situation, any of the three treatments currently available — salpingectomy, linear salpingostomy, or treatment with methotrexate — are allowed, she said. 

A 2014 article published by the Catholic Health Association of the United States describes these treatments.

A salpingectomy is a surgical procedure where a doctor partially or entirely removes the fallopian tube housing the embryo. With a salpingostomy, the doctor cuts into the fallopian tube and removes invasive trophoblastic cells and damaged tubal tissue, which, in the process, also removes the embryo.