By Dom Bettinelli
“Maternal Health” is a phrase commonly heard when talking about abortion. It’s used by some when discussing exceptions to abortion: “rape, incest and health of the mother” (although more often, the exception would be for the “life” of the mother).
In fact, maternal health is often the overriding concern on both sides of the debate. In Texas, where the current debate is over a law that imposes the same medical standards on abortion facilities that all other surgical centers must meet, supporters of the law say that they are concerned that without those standards, women are at risk of their health and life. But opponents of the standards claim women’s health is actually negatively affected because the law would close many abortion facilities and thus they wouldn’t have access to “reproductive care.”
Of course, such an argument doesn’t hold water because the law doesn’t close the abortion centers; the decision to close is made by those unwilling to meet the standards. Not to mention that pregnancy is not a disease that afflicts women, but is a completely natural state, and is a woman is indeed ill, she can go to a doctor or hospital.
Meanwhile, Margaret Datiles Watts, at the Culture of Life Foundation, delves into that term “maternal health” and what, if any, legal meaning it actually has. She notes that even Roe v. Wade allowed government to even prohibit abortion, as long as exceptions are made for the life or health of the mother, and then refers the reader to the definition in the companion case Doe v. Bolton:
That case defined maternal health as a state of maternal well-being determined, not solely by medical considerations, but “in light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.
Watts notes that this very broad list essentially opens “health” to mean virtually anything, including a certain standard of living:
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court asserted that women’s reliance on abortion to live the kind of social and economic life they desire is a legitimate factor to be considered in determining what constitutes women’s health/well-being for purposes of abortion law. The Casey Court asserted that “people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion…. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Here, the Court failed to take the opportunity to clarify the definition of maternal health, and the maternal health exception remained vague and all-encompassing.
As with most everything having to do with abortion in the courts and legislative bodies over the past four decades, abortion alone of all factors relating to how we maintain a just and rational society is exempted from even basic logic and definitions. According to the prevailing mindset, abortion must be given such wide latitude that it may be accessed at any time, in any place for any reason under any circumstance. Should anything ever have that kind of place in society?