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Tipsheet

New York Times Article on Abortion Bans Being Used to Claim States Will Ban Abortion Even for Life of Mother

AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

Last month, weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, The New York Times published Jan Hoffman's piece highlighting abortion out of Republican states. While the title reads "The New Abortion Bans: Almost No Exceptions for Rape, Incest or Health," the piece opens with a curious point about the life of the mother. 

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"In the years before Roe v. Wade, some states that had outlawed abortion began permitting it in limited circumstances: in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life or health of the woman," Hoffman writes.

Such a claim is a bold one, that states would ban abortion even when the life of the mother is at risk. It becomes even more bold, then, considering that Hoffman's piece provides no direct evidence.

All of these weeks later, Hoffman's piece remains relevant in that it's gaining traction. FiveThirtyEight on Tuesday published an article about "How Americans Feel About Abortion, Contraception And The Right To Privacy." It used Hoffman's piece to make that same bold claim, that states may be banning abortion even when it comes to the life of the mother:

In fact, while Republicans were more likely to oppose abortion than Democrats or independents, they, like most Americans, rejected the idea of making abortion fully illegal, with no exceptions. This is notable because a number of almost entirely Republican-run states could end up with abortion bans that contain no allowances in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.... 

Hoffman herself discredits her own claim about the life of the mother, by writing that "While all bans allow an exception to save the life of the woman, those in some states, such as Idaho, South Dakota and Arkansas, do not also cite protection of her health." 

It's worth mentioning that there are concerns for health exceptions because "health" is so broadly defined. In Roe's companion case of Doe v. Bolton, which was handed down the same day in 1973, the door was left wide open for states to have to allow for legal abortion up until birth for any reason. The Court's opinion acknowledged that it broadly defined how health could mean anything the mother and doctor decided it did. 

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When bills do contain a health exception, it's pertinent that they're carefully laid out. This is the case with federal legislation. With the Heartbeat Protection Act of 2021, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), there are exceptions for "an abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions."

The only specific mention from Hoffman of those who oppose such exceptions for life of the mother are groups like Pro-Life Wisconsin and Doug Mastriano, who is the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania. He currently serves as a state senator. When it comes to the gubernatorial race in November between Mastriano and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, prognosticators consider the race to be "Lean Democratic" or "Tilt Democratic."

There is no mention of a specific state law that has passed or is being considered that would not contain an exception for life of the mother.

Hoffman also cites Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life (SFLA) in her piece, which distinguishes between the rape and incest exceptions as well as life of the mother:

Students for Life, an anti-abortion organization, distinguishes between exceptions for rape or incest, and one to save the life of the woman, said Kristan Hawkins, the group’s president. How a child was conceived, she said, is irrelevant to the value of that child’s life: “We see them as valuable, worthy of love, and welcome.”

The group does, however, support exceptions for a lifesaving abortion. “That is not an act of abortion,” she said, “as the intent of abortion is to end life, not intervene to save life if possible.”

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It's worth emphasizing Hawkins' point that such is "not an act of abortion," with an abortion often being considered a direct and intentional taking of an unborn life. 

Although the issue of whether treating an ectopic pregnancy is not explicitly mentioned in Hoffman's article, that issue did find its way into the news recently, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) taking to Twitter to claim that Justice Brett Kavanaugh "decided half the country should risk death if they have an ectopic pregnancy within the wrong state lines."

The treatment of an ectopic pregnancy, which is a nonviable pregnancy that develops not in the uterus, where it is supposed to, but rather elsewhere, oftentimes in the Fallopian tubes, is not considered an abortion. If not removed, the pregnancy, which again, is not viable, could severely injure or kill the woman. The pregnancy is removed to save the life of the mother, not to directly and intentionally kill the unborn child. 

Even Planned Parenthood acknowledges that treating an ectopic pregnancy is not an abortion, and that it is also done using a different procedure. 

Given that in the weeks that have passed since Hoffman's article came out, with Roe being formally overturned, and no state laws have banned abortions completely without such an exception, SFLA spoke with Townhall to provide follow-up comment. 

"Corporate abortion doesn’t know the difference in trying to save two lives even though sometimes, sadly, it’s not possible, and deliberately ending life. We support true life of the mother exceptions when both patients are considered," said Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for SFLA. 

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"Saving the life of the mother when both mother and child can’t be saved is well understood and supported. Recent efforts to make that seem confusing come from abortion zealots who want to use that rare occurrence to justify adding to the more than 63 million lives lost to abortion," she continued, highlighting how abortions for such specific reasons are indeed very rare. 

According to a study the Guttmacher Institute, 1 percent of abortions take place due to rape, and less than 0.5 percent take place due to incest. Life of the mother is not specifically mentioned in that study. Florida, however, records reasons for every abortion. In 2021, out of the 79,817 abortions performed, only 119 were described as an "Abortion Performed due to a Life Endangering Physical Condition," accounting for just 0.14 percent. 

Even if states were to ban abortions without such an exception for the life of the mother, a rule from the Biden administration would override that when it comes to hospitals being required to provide such emergency care. Madeline covered the rule earlier on Tuesday. "Today, in no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services, and that federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care," Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in part in a statement from Monday. 

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