When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it raised many questions.
One of the main questions and concerns pregnant women have is if they’ll have access to abortion if the pregnancy endangers their life.
And contrary to some online claims, certain medical conditions will allow for the termination of a pregnancy to avoid fatal complications for the mother.
But with all the new restrictive abortion laws, how life-threatening does a pregnancy have to be before it can be terminated?
We’ll take a look at that and more below.
Medical Reasons A Pregnancy Could Be Terminated
An ectopic pregnancy can become deadly to the mother if they aren’t terminated.
Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, typically in the fallopian tube.
They occur in about 2% of all pregnancies.
As the pregnancy continues to grow and develop, it will cause the tube to rupture, which can cause the pregnant woman to hemorrhage and die.
In almost every case, the way to treat an ectopic pregnancy is to terminate it with a medical abortion or surgical procedure.
Not treating an ectopic pregnancy can put patients at serious risk.
Many doctors believe it to be medical malpractice to watch a patient at risk for a tubal rupture from an ectopic pregnancy without offering termination.
There’s a real risk of death.
If the water breaks early in pregnancy, there is a high risk for infection, which could be life-threatening. If the water breaks before the 20-week mark in a pregnancy, it is typically recommended by medical professionals to consider an abortion.
When there is an extremely high risk of infection inside the uterus, it could spread quickly into the bloodstream, causing the pregnant woman to become septic.
Other Health Conditions That Could Warrant An Abortion
Placental abruption is another condition that could fatally impact a pregnant woman. This condition is when the placenta begins to separate from the uterus.
These are uncommon but pose a severe risk to the mother’s health.
In a small percentage of abruptions, a woman could bleed so heavily that she could go into hemorrhagic shock.
If that occurs, doctors would recommend a very urgent termination of the pregnancy as a life-saving measure for the mom to keep her from bleeding to death.
Preeclampsia in early gestation is another condition in which pregnancy comes at a very high risk for the mother.
Preeclampsia involves developing high blood pressure and signs of organ damage.
If women with pulmonary hypertension become pregnant, they are at high risk of becoming even more gravely ill or dying in pregnancy.
If women aren’t allowed to get a legal abortion to save their life, many experts worry that unsafe abortions will become common all over again.
When Can You Legally End A Pregnancy?
The abortion ban has made it very unclear when doctors can legally end pregnancies if the mother’s life is endangered.
For example, a patient in Texas was seven weeks pregnant and experiencing kidney failure.
Many medical providers would consider that a life-threatening condition.
However, abortions in TX are banned after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
That’s around six weeks of pregnancy.
However, if a physician believes a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance, they may terminate the pregnancy.
There are still gray areas.
Most abortion bans that have gone into effect include exceptions for life-threatening situations. The problem is that there’s no clear legal definition of which conditions qualify for those exceptions or how severe the condition must be for a doctor to perform an abortion free of liability.
That leaves many medical professionals wondering what the risk of death has to be and how imminent it must be before they can start the termination of pregnancy.
Is abortion permissible in a patient with a 30-to-50% chance of dying with ongoing pregnancy?
Or does it have to be 100%?”
Doctors practicing in states where abortion is now illegal will likely have to wait until it’s inevitable that a patient will die before they can perform the procedure.
That is not an ideal time to do any intervention.
Many experts predict more maternal deaths as a result of waiting.
Before the overturn of Roe V Wade, the U.S. had approximately 700 women die every year of pregnancy-related complications.
The U.S. is the only industrialized nation where maternal mortality is rising.
And the U.S. has nearly the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries.
About 3 in 5 of those maternal deaths are preventable.
And, states that restrict abortion access have higher rates of maternal mortality than those that don’t, a fact that abortion rights activists use as proof that abortion should be a right.
The rule of thumb is often that a pregnant woman has to be at imminent risk of dying before an abortion is performed.
That means the woman is at risk of dying right then rather than later in the pregnancy if it moves forward.
Most abortion bans make providing or attempting an abortion a felony charge.
That means doctors and clinics will likely be charged and tried rather than individual patients.
And it appears that many states with abortion bans have “zealous prosecutors” who will do whatever they can to shut down clinics and throw doctors in jail or strip them of their licenses.
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