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.