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The Deadly ‘Pro-Life’ Stance on Ectopic Pregnancies

| Reproaction

By: Jessica Ensley

Ohio has been ground-zero for many anti-abortion attacks and regulations. Raised in suburban Ohio, I was always keenly aware of the conservative area I lived in and the negative societal responses to people exercising bodily autonomy. I first felt the pull toward reproductive justice work in the summer of 2013, when an anti-abortion law signed by then-Governor John Kasich (R) imposed erroneous restrictions that led an abortion clinic in Toledo to shut down. [1]

Ohio made headlines in 2018 for proposed legislation that would have subjected women who have abortions to the death penalty. [2] It is absolutely horrifying, as no one should be prosecuted or face the death penalty for abortion.

The most recent proposed legislation is one that holds no basis in science or reality, along with the trademark cruelty associated with anti-abortion legislation. State Representative John Becker (R) has drafted legislation demanding that doctors remove ectopic pregnancies, which are non-viable pregnancies that implanted outside the uterus, to be replanted in the uterus. However, that procedure does not exist. Current medicine shows this is impossible. When asked about the nonexistent procedure, Becker said, “I never questioned it or gave it a lot of thought,” which is disgustingly outrageous. [3] Becker received help for this legislation from Barry Sheets, a lobbyist for the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, but did not apparently seek information from medical professionals. [4]

Ectopic pregnancies can be deadly to the pregnant person; they are the leading cause of maternal death in the first trimester. [5] The only treatment is to remove the pregnancy, and there are currently three ways to do so. The first is an injection using the drug methotrexate which will dissolve the pregnancy. Second is laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery in which a small incision is made bellow the belly button to remove the pregnancy and then stich up the fallopian tube so it remains intact. Lastly, a larger incision can be made in a laparotomy. [6] The injection and keyhole surgery methods are the least invasive, in which a patient can go home in within 24 hours. In some cases of the larger incision surgery, the whole fallopian tube may need to be removed.

This only gets more complicated when a person with an ectopic pregnancy receives medical care at a Catholic hospital. Catholic hospitals and clinics in the U.S. follow the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) which are crafted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (notably, in order to read the most recent directives, the bishops charge for it). [7] ERDs claim to give “a theological basis for the Catholic health care ministry.” [8] In the case of ectopic pregnancies, the ERD demands that there can be no “direct abortion” but what qualifies as such is left up to individual Catholic hospitals. [9] Some Catholic hospital interpretations of the ERD means they do not allow the use of methotrexate, the drug that would simply dissolve the pregnancy. A study on ectopic pregnancy care in hospitals found that a lack of complete care offered in all hospitals resulted “in practices that delay care and may expose women to unnecessary risks.” [10]

Some Catholic hospitals not only refuse to use methotrexate, but also refuse to perform the less-invasive keyhole surgery, only performing surgery to remove the entire fallopian tube. [11] The National Catholic Bioethics Center, an anti-abortion research center, refers to the least invasive ectopic pregnancy removal procedures as “morally problematic” and the use of methotrexate as a “direct abortion.” They go on to state “a morally acceptable approach would involve removal of the whole section of the tube on the side of the woman’s body where the unborn child is lodged. Although this results in reduced fertility for the woman.” [12]

In attempt to follow the ‘pro-life’ church guidelines, some Catholic hospitals are conducting a more invasive procedure for a life-threatening condition which could result in a difficult time conceiving for the patient in the future. They are knowingly causing harm to women to avoid a “direct abortion,” even though an embryo is never viable in an ectopic pregnancy. The logical loopholes that some Catholic hospitals create to be ‘pro-life’ only serve to wreak havoc on patients’ bodies.

Now in Ohio, a new bill has been introduced that would subject doctors to potential murder charges if they do not perform the impossible procedure of implanting an ectopic pregnancy into the uterus. [13] Trying to keep up with the logical fallacies in the anti-abortion argument is exhausting, but what is clear is that they won’t rest until every doctor and patient seeking abortion care – even lifesaving care – is harmed in some way.

Sources:

  1. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/john-kasichs-quiet-campaign-to-cut-abortion-access/
  2. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/11/217323/ohio-abortion-ban-death-penalty
  3. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/ohio/articles/2019-12-11/lobbyist-had-hand-in-bill-sparking-ectopic-pregnancy-flap
  4. https://www.businessinsider.com/ohio-lawmaker-says-he-didnt-research-ectopic-pregnancy-abortion-bill-2019-12
  5. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00404-014-3266-9
  6. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Ectopic-pregnancy
  7. http://store.usccb.org/searchresults.asp?Search=ethical+and+religious
  8. https://healthlaw.org/resource/the-ethical-religious-directives-what-the-2018-update-means-for-catholic-hospital-mergers/
  9. https://www.chausa.org/publications/health-care-ethics-usa/article/winter-2011/catholic-hospitals-and-ectopic-pregnancies
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21353977
  11. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health-environment-science/religious-hospitals-restrictions-sparking-conflicts-scrutiny/2011/01/03/ABVVxmD_story.html
  12. https://www.ncbcenter.org/files/9514/6984/9801/MSOB052_When_Pregnancy_Goes_Awry.pdf
  13. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/29/ohio-extreme-abortion-bill-reimplant-ectopic-pregnancy
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