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Rep. Joe Walsh’s abortion comment is stunning in its ignorance

Citing unnamed “advances in science and technology,” the congressman said that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a woman. A U of M doctor explains why he’s wrong.

Rep. Joe Walsh claimed Thursday that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a woman.

The medical ignorance of some politicians — particularly in regard to women’s reproductive health — continues to astonish me.

The latest example of such ignorance comes from Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill). Citing unnamed “advances in science and technology,” he told reporters Thursday night that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a woman.

That’s right. Never.

“There’s no such exception as life of the mother,” Walsh stated in a brief press conference after a televised debate with his pro-choice Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth.

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“Health of the mother has become a tool for abortions [at] any time, under any reason,” he added.

Dr. Carrie Terrell
Dr. Carrie Terrell

The idea there is some kind of modern medical technology or procedure that has made full-term pregnancies suddenly perfectly safe for all women is news to Dr. Carrie Terrell, an ob-gyn and chief of staff at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

“There are innumerable potential instances wherein a termination of pregnancy would be indicated to save a woman’s life,” she said in a phone interview Friday.

That list includes “but is not limited to,” she said, such serious conditions as:

  • chorioamnionitis in pre-viable pre-term premature rupture of membranes (a bacteria-related inflammation of the fetal membranes),
  • severe pre-eclampsia and other hypertensive (high blood pressure) disorders,
  • certain forms of cardiomyopathy (a disease that weakens and enlarges the heart),
  • various maternal cardiac and pulmonary anomalies,
  • severe nephrosis,
  • severe cancers,
  • infections with sepsis, and
  • multi-organ failure.

Terrell said that in her practice, she sees pregnant women with these kinds of conditions several times a year.

“Even in these cases, it is still the woman’s choice whether or not to proceed with termination,” she added.

Sometimes, said Terrell, women do decide to proceed with their pregnancies, despite the threat the pregnancy poses to their lives. And sometimes they die as a result.

Terrell said she has no idea what advances in technology Walsh was talking about.

“We’ve probably advanced with the number of conditions we can treat and keep women pregnant,” she said, “but there are still limitations to that.”

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Statements such as those from Walsh are “frustrating and just kind of medically ridiculous,” Terrell added. “We just have to dismiss a lot of things that people say.”

And maybe start requiring that politicians take — and pass — a course in women’s health.