Abortion ban claims another life: is this what people mean by pro-life?

Rosa Hernandez, a teenage girl in the Dominican Republic, needed chemotherapy for her leukemia. She didn’t get it because she was pregnant, and chemo might possibly cause a miscarriage, and they have a total abortion ban. She and the fetus both died.

This bears another going-over. Rosa wasn’t seeking an abortion. She was seeking chemotherapy. But because chemotherapy might possibly have caused a miscarriage – not an abortion, a miscarriage – the hospital chose to deny her that treatment. In essence, their understanding of the abortion ban meant it was legally safer to let the leukemia kill both mother and fetus than it was for them to do their jobs and preserve what life they could in this medical situation.

When you get to the point where your “pro-life” stance is killing people, something has gone horribly wrong. And what’s worse is that in neither of the recent cases we’ve heard about did the fetus even survive, which means that no life was preserved.

Let’s look at where data-based critical thinking rather than ideology gets us. When a mother is on one particular chemotherapy drug called Imatnib (Gleevec) (there are other leukemia therapies available), the fetus has about a 50% chance of developing birth defects or being miscarried. Not a 50% miscarriage rate, and certainly not the 100% miscarriage rate you get with abortion. The fetus still has a 50% chance of being born perfectly healthy – and with a mother who’s alive and well thanks to chemo. The danger of complications is worst during the first trimester, which Rosa was still unfortunately within. But let’s do the math:

  • If Rosa died or miscarried before her fetus reached its second trimester, the fetus’ chances of survival were zero.
  • Rosa’s chance of surviving untreated leukemia until the fetus was solidly into its second trimester was negligible.
  • The fetus’ chance of survival with Rosa on chemotherapy was better than 50%. (If there’s a 50% chance of miscarriage or birth defects, then the change of miscarriage must be less than that total 50%.)
  • Rosa’s chance of survival with treatment has not been estimated in anything I’ve read, but it had to be better than zero or negligible.

If your goal is to preserve life, let doctors can make rational, fact-based decisions based on calculated risks. Get the law out of their way and let them do what they’re trained to do. The doctors could have tried another drug that doesn’t cause pregnancy complications, if they had access to it. Failing that, they could have just treated Rosa immediately with the imatnib, taking the 50% chance that the fetus would be born perfectly healthy.

Rosa’s baby might have been born if doctors had been allowed to treat her in a medically ethical fashion. Instead, the lack of treatment foisted upon them by a draconian law made by people who don’t know medicine virtually ensured that both Rosa and her baby would die.

If doctors had been allowed to practice medicine instead of being hampered by ideological politics, Rosa’s mother might have both her daughter and a grandchild on the way. She almost surely would at least have had one or the other.


  1. Cheryl says

    I’m pro-life, in that I believe ALL human beings have a right to life, with the already-born outranking the unborn. I firmly believe that it is an extremely small minority of women who are going to make a decision to pursue a medical treatment that could harm or kill their unborn child without giving serious thought and consideration to that unborn child, so if she says she wants a treatment that has a chance of harming or killing the unborn child, she should receive said treatment.

    God is more powerful than any medication or procedure, and if He wants the child born healthy, the child will be born healthy.

  2. Maria says

    I keep getting hung up on how this is a story so firmly relegated to being a “women’s issue” that abortion, if it’s even a sin, becomes a sin for the mother and the daughter, not for the girl’s partner, the hospital, etc. Just them.

  3. says


    All unwanted pregnancies are immaculate – no men involved. Maybe that’s why Christians are so anxious about them – “That could be the Lord comin’ back!” 😉

    I will never understand what a waste of space you have to be to blame women for all things relating to penises. It’s like blaming pedestrians for all things relating to cars.

    Please, PLEASE let us be entering an age where even conservatives FINALLY grasp that data, facts, numbers and reality are HELPFUL in making good choices, not the enemy.

  4. Amy McCabe says

    Given a 100% chance of death of the fetus vs a 50% chance of death of fetus, this doesn’t make sense even if you care for the fetus (over the welfare of the mother). It can be argued that going on chemo was the only way to save the fetus. Thus, I can’t see this as being motivated by anything short of misogyny.

  5. says

    Amy McCabe, right? It just doesn’t make any sense. And when a decision doesn’t make sense, it has to be emotion based. And the only emotion that fits? Like you said, misogyny. Maybe they perceived Rosa as a slut who didn’t deserve treatment. (Personally, I think if you’re young and you’ve got a disease that means you may not make it to marrying age, no one has any business judging if you want to go ahead and try sex while you’ve got the chance. I’m sorry, but even religions ought to realize that’s a special situation.)

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