• When facts don’t meet your worldview, just stop talking

    Mouth, meet foot:

    Republican Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.) said Thursday that abortions are “absolutely” never necessary to save the lives of pregnant women.

    “With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance,” Walsh said. “There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.”

    I’ve written a number of times about how politicians get into trouble when the facts don’t meet their worldview. I have no doubt Rep. Walsh is pro-life. He may believe that life begins at conception. He may believe that all abortion is murder. The problem is that most people don’t agree with him. Many people believe that abortion should be illegal, but that there are instances when it should be permissible, like when conception is a product of rape or incest, or when pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.

    But if you truly believe that abortion should never be allowed – ever – then as a politician you run the risk of alienating the voters who mostly agree with you, but with these few exceptions. So you have two choices: you have a difficult discussion about your differences, or you pretend that these small exceptions don’t exist.

    Rep. Akin got into trouble when he tried to pretend that pregnancy never resulted from rape or incest. Now, Rep. Walsh is likely about to get into some trouble for claiming that a mother’s life is never threatened by a pregnancy.

    Let’s start  with the simple fact that maternal mortality is real. In fact, it’s higher in the US than in most industrialized countries. Getting pregnant carries a risk of death with it. It’s small, but it’s real. So just on that fact alone, one could argue that ending a pregnancy might in some small way prevent death.

    But let’s bring this into the real world of the abortion debate. Regardless of what Rep. Walsh believes, pregnant women still sometimes face conditions that force them to make this choice in an acute way. He should look up the case of Sister Margaret McBride:

    In November, Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, made the decision to save the life of a 27-year-old pregnant woman. The woman, a mother of four, was 11 weeks pregnant, suffering pulmonary hypertension that would very likely kill her and, as a result, her unborn child. Sister McBride agreed to the abortion that would save the woman’s life. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has excommunicated her for it.

    This took place in 2009, not in the long-long-ago. Rep. Walsh may agree with the Bishop’s actions. He may think that allowing the life-saving abortion was wrong (although it appears that Sister Margaret was later ex-excommunicated). But he’s not actually denying the existence of pulmonary hypertension, is he?

    I know these relatively rare cases and exceptions pose a political problem for some of our representatives. I don’t care. Real life is messy and full of difficult choices. Denying their existence is unproductive.

    I’ll look forward to a statement declaring Rep. Walsh “misspoke” later. Once again, though, this would all go more smoothly if everyone would just stick to science.


    (UPDATE: edited for clarity.)

    • Well said!

    • In addition to pulmonary hypertension, there’s also ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube. If the pregnancy continues, it will rupture the tube and the mom will require immediate surgery. Now, there is one case where the embryo implanted in the abdomen and the mom carried the pregnancy to term – good for her and the baby, but I have heard some people (in Latin America) use this case an an example of how modern medicine means we don’t have to abort for ectopic pregnancies. This was one unique case – most ectopic pregnancies don’t implant in the abdomen.

      By the way, the Catholic Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives allow pregnancies that are likely to harm the mother and jeopardize her life to be discontinued. The key is that you must treat the condition that threatens the mother, and you must not directly abort the pregnancy. Fr ectopic pregnancy, this could mean that removal of the entire affected fallopian tube would be allowed, but removal of the embryo only would not be. This distinction is important to Catholics concerned with doctrine. It seems to me that Sr. McBride may have fallen afoul of it; I assume she was aware of the directive, so it may be a question of interpretation, or perhaps she felt that time was of the essence and the physicians could present no alternative that would comply precisely with the ERD.

      I know this because I interned at a Catholic hospital system once and made a point to study the ERD and their prescriptions on reproductive health.

    • Perhaps you would expatiate on the ramifications of overturning Roe v Wade? Are there statistics enumerating abortions resulting from specific motives, e.g., rape? Thank you for your insightful and timely writings.

    • What “world view” was he expressing?

    • Is it any worse than saying “Let’s keep abortion safe, legal, and rare.” ?

      Notice how “rare” is really out of place with the reality.

      • I don’t understand your distinction. In the example Aaron provided, he is demonstrating how political figures oftentimes ignore scientific fact in an effort to make it seem like their world view fits some incomplete set of facts (while passing it off that those are the only facts known).

        Thinking that abortion is rare, is simply an opinion. How do you empirically test an opinion? I think abortion should be rare. I also don’t dispute the fact abortions happen, nor do I dispute the fact that sometimes abortions are a medically necessary procedure to protect the health of the mother. I see no reason why those three statements are contradictory.

    • Aaron,

      I was just looking at your maternal mortality chart, and noticed something. 2003 is the year that maternal mortality in the USA spikes. 2003 is also the year of the federal partial birth abortion ban. Are they related?