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Why Abortion Is Not Health Care

It is common in the abortion debate for proponents of abortion to insist that access to abortion is an essential part of reproductive health care. Abortion proponents argue that women cannot receive effective and safe medical care unless abortion on demand is available to them. But I point out that this assertion — that abortion is health care, i.e., a medical procedure — is not true by any rational understanding of medical practice or ethics. 

American medical ethics is predicated on four basic principles:

  • Autonomy: to honor the patient’s right to make his/her own decision
  • Beneficence: to help the patient advance his/her own good
  • Nonmaleficence: to do no harm
  • Justice: to be fair and treat like cases alike

It is widely accepted in medical ethics that obstetrical care is care for two patients — the mother and the child. In fact, there is an explicit sub-specialization within obstetrics called Maternal-Fetal Medicine, although all obstetricians necessarily concern themselves with the well-being of both the child and the mother.  

Cornerstones of Medical Ethics

While abortion respects the autonomy of the mother, it obviously deprives the unborn child (who is also the patient) of all four cornerstones of medical ethics — autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice. The child certainly has no autonomy in the matter, is not helped by abortion but is in fact killed by it, and is treated in a manner that would be criminal if it were done to a human being outside of the womb. 

By the ordinary criteria that define ethical medical practice, abortion is not a medical procedure. To get a better sense of this, consider that abortion is a procedure in which death is the outcome that defines success. If no one dies, the abortion is a failure. The mortality rate for abortion is generally quoted (by abortion proponents) as about 0.02 percent, but that is not correct. The mortality rate for abortion is 100.02 percent. Abortion is only successful if someone dies. Sometimes, tragically, two people die. 

The only aspect of abortion that links it to medical practice is that it is generally performed in a medical facility using medical tools by medical personnel. But location, tools, and certification do not define medical procedures — e.g., a doctor who uses his skill and tools to deliberately kill people isn’t practicing medicine, he’s committing homicide.

A Proscribed Procedure

Abortion is not medical care — it is homicide, committed (usually) under imprimatur of law. It is analogous not to an operation but to a legal execution. Notably, the American Medical Association proscribes physician participation in judicial executions:

…[As a] member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, a physician must not participate in a legally authorized execution.

Regardless of changes in the legal landscape after the Dobbs decision, the medical profession should completely disavow abortion and abortionists. Abortion is not health care. Abortion is legally sanctioned homicide, and deliberate killing — whether it be abortion, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, judicial execution, or murder — is never a medical procedure. 

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.



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