Protecting a Pregnant Woman’s Health

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who accuses the Church of sentencing pregnant women to death because it doesn’t allow abortion? Or someone who is against abortion “except in the case of the mother’s health”?

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about the teaching, especially for those of us who aren’t medical doctors.

“Abortion is never permitted…Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”

This one-page article from Zenit clarifies the teaching and offers concrete examples, and I highly recommend reading it.

Even Catholics who have heard bits and pieces of the story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla might not understand why she is a saint.

At two months pregnant, she found out that she had a uterine fibroma. The doctors gave her three choices:

– have an abortion to end the pregnancy which was increasing the pain of the fibroma and later have it removed; have a hysterectomy to remove the entire uterus, including the fibroma and her unborn child; or have a myomectomy to remove just the fibroma.

Abortion is never permitted. A hysterectomy would have been permissible if it could not have been safely postponed until the unborn child was viable. Being a doctor herself, she knew that it was possible to carry the child to viability, so she chose a myomectomy to preserve the life of her child.

When it came time to deliver her child by C-section, she knew there would be complications. She was very clear that she wanted her child’s life preserved over her own, if the choice needed to be made. Though she made it through the pregnancy, she died a week later.

Gianna’s sainthood stems from her acceptance of suffering for the sake of her baby’s chance at life. Sadly, in 1973, the U.S. court said of abortion, “Medical judgment may be exercised in light of all factors–physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age–relevant to the wellbeing of the patient…All these factors may relate to health.” This practically means that if the mother is suffering in any way, a doctor can decide whether it would be “healthier” for her to kill her child.

We must continue to pray that we ourselves accept the suffering in each day (as Christ suffered for us) and that, like Gianna, pregnant mothers and medical doctors value human life over comfort.

11 Replies to “Protecting a Pregnant Woman’s Health”

  1. Coincidentally, I just read Saint Gianna’s story in a book I’m reading right now. What a sacrifice! It really brought this whole “health of the mother” in perspective for me.

    I don’t know what the stats are, but it’s very, very rare that a mother will die from pregnancy in the early stages, unless it is ectopic. A dear friend of mine had two ectopic pregnancies and both her tubes had to be removed, along with the developing baby. To this day she grieves for those babies.

    It’s only in late in the second trimester or third trimester that sometimes the baby has to be taken early and with all the new technologies in prenatal care, I am amazed at how many of these babies survive and do just fine. Two of my friends had to have emergency births (one at 28 weeks and another at 26). And all I can say is Wow! With God’s grace both mother and child lived.

    1. It’s incredible to hear stories of babies delivered so early! Proof that we can trust in God!

      Ectopic pregnancies are a scenario that many Catholics don’t understand. (I myself had to do much research on it.) Many will have a direct abortion in order to prevent rupturing of the fallopian tubes, which is never permissible.

      What is permissible is to have the damaged fallopian tube removed. The reason an ectopic pregnancy occurres is because the tube is damaged by a tubal blockage which may be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, scarring, STDs, some contraceptives, some infertility treatments, or a previous ectopic pregnancy. It’s true that a woman’s fertility decreases after a fallopian tube is removed, but preserving future fertility never justifies abortion.

  2. Laura,
    Thanks for the succinct presentation of a complicated and emotional topic. The Zenit article is a great clarifying resource for those who are often drawn into this conversation with both teens and peers.

    1. You’re welcome!

      There was a lot of discussion about this surrounding the case of the mother in Arizona who received a direct abortion (at a Catholic hospital) on her 11-week old unborn baby in order to diminish the symptoms of her pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension (problem with blood vessels in the lungs) worsen with the biological stresses of pregnancy and birth, and there is a high mortality rate. However, like St. Gianna, women must have the courage to trust in God’s providence. Abortion is never the answer.

      1. Laura, I have read a lot of discussion of the Phoenix case online, and I still think the most sensible and heartening account from the Catholic side is an article in First Things on 21 May (one week after the news broke) by Elizabeth Scalia. You can get it at

        She doesn’t actually mention St. Gianna Molla herself, but the second person to post a comment on the article did.

  3. Great post, and thanks for tackling something that is tough for many to hear or talk about. Statistically speaking, pregnancy is a miracle. 1 in 4 pregnancies actually result in birth. Miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are much more common than you would think. It’s a touchy topic with non-Catholics, or people that believe that the mother’s health comes first. With ectopic pregnancies, most doctors will tell you that if the fallopian tube is not removed, you could have a serious infection and die. That is very true, and most if not all women experiencing this will undergo the surgery rather than die for a baby that probably won’t live either way.

    With miscarriages, there are a number of reasons why they can occur. I personally have a blood disorder which results in a high rate of miscarriage if I were to get pregnant. There’s also no cure for this disorder and very little treatment for it, if any at all. If I get pregnant and stay pregnant, it would be nothing short of a miracle. St. Gianna is a example for all of us women who may be pregnant, or are planning on being pregnant. No one ever said that being a saint was an easy thing…

  4. Thank you for this great article!! My son recently got a young woman pregnant and they almost went through with an abortion. I thank the lord every day they didn’t do it!!! menozac review

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