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What about abortion to save the mother’s life?

First published 22 February 2005; updated 16 July 2022

I did various searches on your web site, but wasn’t able to find the reasoning for the statement ‘…it is wrong to take this life exept where the mother’s actual life is in danger’ found in ‘Antidote to abortion arguments’, by Dr Jonathan Sarfati. Is this [CMI’s] position? If it is, doesn’t it also follow that it is right to remove Dr Sarfati’s heart to replace my diseased one. Does God approve of forcing one person to die for another. I am at a loss to explain this exception to the wonderful anti-abortion material on your site. What Have I missed?


Eldon Miller

The book that I reviewed in the article in question, Politically Correct Death, agrees that life of the mother is the only exception. But at least this is a genuine life-for-life issue, and could be called an act of genuine self-defence. And even here the intention is to save the life of the mother by removing the unborn from a place like the fallopian tube where it would inevitably cause death to both mother and baby. And the death of the unborn is deemed not to be wrong because of the Principle of Double Effect. That is, if a contemplated action has both good and bad effects, then is permissible only if it is not wrong in itself and if it does not require that one directly intend the bad result.

In the case of removing an ectopic pregnancy, the death is an accidental and not an intended consequence of the act to save the mother. Knowledge of consequences that will result from committing an action is not the same as intending those consequences. But if they had the technology to save this child outside the womb, they should do so, and this has been done with emergency c-section plus incubation.

Actually, removing an ectopic pregnancy doesn’t even count as an abortion according to the medical community. Abortion is defined as removing the embryo or fetus from the uterus. Ectopic pregnancy by definition is outside the uterus. Professor John Bonnar, former Chairperson of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Ireland, has testifed that the treatment for ectopic pregnancy “is not abortion as far as the medical professional is concerned” but rather “essential treatment to preserve the life of the mother. … A ban on abortion does not involve treatment of ectopic pregnancies; you would have to be a misguided doctor to think that it did.” Irish doctor James Clinch explains: “You are working in a hospital, you find somebody with a tube that’s swollen, bursting, about to rupture and maybe do something terrible. You’re a registrar or senior registrar. You treat that woman the best way you can. Your intention in treating that woman and her tube is not to kill a baby. That’s why the word intention was put in. So that’s how I would look at that.”1 As the Irish pro-life website Life Zone says about ectopic pregnancy:

Ectopic pregnancy is not an issue in the abortion debate. The removal of an ectopic pregnancy is not an abortion and has never been considered as such either under the terms of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act or the 1983 Eight Amendment to the Irish Constitution. Since the first description of the surgical management of ectopic pregnancy by Lawson Tait in 1884 there has never been even a suggestion that a doctor who removes an ectopic pregnancy should be prosecuted. There has not been a single death from an ectopic pregnancy in Ireland over the last 20 years, where abortion is illegal. In Britain, however, where abortion is legal, 4–6 women die from ectopic pregnancies each year. …
Abortion is not needed to treat an ectopic pregnancy and the current treatments that are available for such pregnancies are not considered abortion as far as the medical community is concerned. There are a few things to consider in this regard:
  1. It is important to remember that an ectopic pregnancy is not a normal healthy pregnancy, it is a diseased condition that carries serious risk for the mother and it is that pathological process that needs to be treated.
  2. The treatment for this condition does not meet the definition of abortion which is the purposeful destruction of the unborn in the termination of pregnancy.
  3. The intent of the doctor needs to be considered in every intervention; in the treatment of an ectopic pregnancy his or her intent is to treat an abnormal condition and avert serious risk to the mother. In an abortion the intent is to end the life of a living baby. Intent is something that carries serious weight, in medicine and in criminal law. …1

As the last point says, the whole intent of abortion is to produce a dead baby, and this is graphically illustrated in the gruesome ‘partial birth abortion’. And this is done not to save the mother’s life, and in fact there is no psychiatric evidence that abortion improves the mother’s mental health, even. Rather, it’s often to allow the woman to have her skiing holiday, fit into her prom dress, finish her university course, etc.

Murdering me to harvest my heart to replace your heart is completely different from the removal of a fallopian pregnancy. My death could not be regarded as merely an accidental consequence of this act, because this very act (murder) is itself a means to the end of replacing your heart, not just an unintended consequence.

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
CMI – Brisbane, Australia

Published: 22 February 2005


  1. Ectopic pregnancy, Life Zone, prolifeinfo.ie, © 2014. Return to text.