Abortion Is Sometimes Medically Necessary, Contrary to Facebook Posts

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SciCheck Digest

There are life-threatening complications in which abortion is medically necessary, and social media posts claiming otherwise are incorrect, physicians said. “In some situations, abortion is the only medical intervention that can preserve a patient’s health,” the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told us.


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The Supreme Court on June 24 overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established abortion as a constitutional right. The decision set in motion a flurry of activity across states, triggering laws banning or severely restricting the practice in some states and spurring efforts in others to protect abortion rights, as we’ve reported.

In the weeks following the decision, social media posts claimed “abortion is never medically necessary.” Those posts are inaccurate and misleading, obstetricians told us, as the alternative the posts suggest — early delivery — is generally not feasible early in pregnancy.

Among the life-threatening conditions the obstetricians cited were placental abruption, which can lead to hemorrhaging, and cases in which a pregnancy aggravates existing conditions such as renal or cardiac disease.

Yet a Facebook post from the anti-abortion organization Live Action says, “Abortion is NEVER medically necessary.” The post includes a video by neonatologist Kendra Kolb saying that even in high-risk situations, “there is no medical reason why the life of the child must be directly and intentionally ended with an abortion procedure.”

She then misleadingly says procedures such as “preterm delivery” or treatment for medical conditions that may result in miscarriage — such as chemotherapy for cancer or treatment for ectopic pregnancy — are not considered abortion.

In another video shared on Facebook, also posted by Live Action, Dr. Christina Francis, who describes herself as “a pro-life OB/GYN,” makes the same claim. She defines abortion as a procedure that is intended to “produce a dead baby,” and says, “That’s not the intent when we intervene to save a woman’s life when she has a ruptured ectopic pregnancy or she’s going through a miscarriage.”

A post featuring a clip of a 2019 speech by activist Lila Rose that makes a similar argument has previously been debunked by Health Feedback. In an article refuting Rose’s contention that early delivery is an alternative to abortion, Health Feedback said that she “redefines the meaning of abortion” to exclude cases that make it medically necessary, such as those that occur early in pregnancy.

The idea that early delivery is an option for a high-risk or complicated pregnancy, as the videos claim, is wrong, physicians told us. Early delivery, they said, suggests the fetus is developed enough to survive outside the womb — generally about 24 weeks — and many conditions necessitate the termination of a pregnancy before that point.

Ectopic pregnancy — when a fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus — could be such an exception. Francis says in her Facebook video that treating an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage “is not the same thing” as an abortion.

PolitiFact reported that “while in some cases there is some overlap in the way ectopic pregnancies are treated and how pregnancies are electively terminated through abortion, that overlap appears to be small.” The larger concern, PolitiFact said, is whether medical providers interpret their state’s abortion laws as limiting how they treat patients with ectopic pregnancies, which can be life-threatening.

Indeed, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, warns that abortion bans “threaten to impede ectopic pregnancy treatment” and can cause confusion and delays.

Health care professionals should never have to navigate vague legal or statutory language to determine whether the law allows them to exercise their professional judgment and provide evidence-based care,” the association says.

Other life-threatening conditions clearly require abortion, physicians said. Placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus, can lead to “massive hemorrhage” that can only be stopped by ending a pregnancy, Dr. Melissa Simon, vice chair for research in the OB-GYN department at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told us in an email.

“I have had hundreds of patients with ectopic pregnancies, and also I have treated hundreds of patients with abruption,” Simon said. “Without treatment, none of these patients would have survived.”

Preeclampsia — a potentially dangerous condition involving high blood pressure and often high levels of protein in the urine — or the “worsening of existing conditions,” such as renal or cardiac disease, are other conditions that can pose serious hazards, said Dr. Iffath A. Hoskins, president of ACOG.

“These and other illnesses can severely compromise health,” Hoskins said in a statement emailed to FactCheck.org. “They can cause death. In some situations, abortion is the only medical intervention that can preserve a patient’s health or save their life. Without question, abortion can be medically necessary.”

ACOG “strongly opposes any effort that impedes access to abortion care and interferes in the relationship between a person and their healthcare professional,” the organization says in a statement on its website. “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive, evidence-based health care,” the organization says.

Correction, July 8: We initially gave an incorrect description of preeclampsia.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Bendix, Aria. NBC News. “How Life-threatening Must a Pregnancy Be to End it Legally?” 30 Jun 2022.

Berry-Roberts, Crystal. Obstetrician and gynecologist. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 30 Jun 2022.

Hoskins, Iffath A. President, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Email to FactCheck.org. 29 Jun 2022.

Kiely, Eugene and Lori Robertson. “What Happens if Roe v. Wade Is Overturned?” FactCheck.org. Updated 24 Jun 2022.

Kitchener, Caroline, et al. “Abortion is Now banned in These States. See Where Laws Have Changed.” Washington Post. 24 Jun 2022.

Mayo Clinic. Patient Care & Health Information. “Ectopic pregnancy.” Accessed 7 Jul 2022.

Mayo Clinic. Patient Care & Health Information. “Placental abruption.” Accessed 7 Jul 2022.

Mayo Clinic. Patient Care & Health Information. “Preeclampsia.” Accessed 7 Jul 2022.

Simon, Melissa, Vice chair for research, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Email to FactCheck.org.

Teoh, Flora. “Lila Rose Claim That ‘Abortion is Never Medically Necessary is Inaccurate; It is Necessary in Certain Cases to Preserve Mother’s Life.” Health Feedback. 30 Aug 2019.

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