by Bridgette Dunlap
October 18, 2012
There is much discussion these days of banning abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. Setting aside the issue of whether this can possibly be true given the right’s support for “personhood” amendments, I want the right to explain what the process would be to seek an exception from a ban on abortion.
If efforts to criminalize abortion succeeded, would it be a medical, legal, or theological authority that would make the determination as to whether a woman qualified to have the banned procedure? If I was raped, would I have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, or might a preponderance of the evidence standard suffice? Would I make my case to a doctor? A judge? A police officer? An ethics committee?
And on what basis would the appointed entity make the decision? The embrace by many politicians of an exception for the life but not the health of the patient would presumably require legislation that would then leave authorities in the position to determine, for example, whether a delay in beginning cancer treatment would be considered a threat to my life or merely a risk to my health.
And how would the exception-seeking process work in an emergency? Reports from doctors seeking to comply with the Catholic Healthcare Directives suggest not well:
I’m on call when she gets septic, and she’s septic to the point that I’m pushing pressors on labor and delivery trying to keep her blood pressure up, and I have her on a cooling blanket because she’s 106 degrees. And I needed to get everything out. And so I put the ultrasound machine on and there was still a heartbeat, and [the ethics committee] wouldn’t let me because there was still a heartbeat. This woman is dying before our eyes. She was so sick she was in the [intensive care unit] for about 10 days and very nearly died. Her bleeding was so bad that the sclera, the white of her eyes, were red, filled with blood…
Imagine if this doctor also needed to comply with a statute and seek the approval of a governmental authority while his patient was “dying before [his] eyes.” Would he need to get an emergency court order or is the idea that the legislated “exceptions” would work as a defense should he be sanctioned or prosecuted for having performed an abortion without approval or sufficient cause?