H.R. 358, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and also known as the Protect Life Act, is being debated in the House today. The vote will be a symbolic one, because even if it passes the bill will be DOA in the Senate. The provision that's getting most of the attention, and rightly so, is the one that says no hospital would be obligated to perform an abortion under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires hospitals to treat and stabilize people in medical emergencies.
When this bill first came up in the spring, I talked to Brian Bosak, a legislative aide in Rep. Pitts' office. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Bosak does not look at this as a question of valuing women less than their children. He believes that the conflict between the two is a manufactured one, and that pro-life doctors will treat both the mother and child as patients and act in the best interests of both of them as much as possible. That's a great ideal, and I have no doubt that many doctors do exactly that, but the fact is that this bill would permit doctors to do otherwise. It fails to safeguard women's lives — and for what? You can't protect the life of an unborn child whose mother is dead.
We talked about cases when, say, a woman comes in with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and the embryo must be removed immediately. He said that the Catholic doctrine of double effect would allow for the treatment of ectopic pregnancy even though that would inevitably result in the death of a child. A lot of people don't even consider that an abortion. I replied that yes, that's the doctrine, but not everyone interprets it the same way. Oh yeah, and not everybody is Catholic. If a woman is experiencing a medical emergency, is she supposed to pick a hospital where she's sure the doctors believe in the doctrine of double effect and interpret it the same way Rep. Pitts and his staff do?
Bosak told me, "There has never been a case where a doctor refused an abortion and a woman died." As far as I've found, that's true — at least in the U.S. — but that's no guarantee of what people will do in the future. Also, I'm wondering about the converse: has a hospital ever been forced to perform an abortion (or a procedure that it may or may not consider an abortion, such as treatment of ectopic pregnancy) under EMTALA? If not, and if doctors really will perform abortions in those cases where they are medically necessary to save a woman's life, then what is the impetus for this provision? Just to say "you can't require doctors to do what they'll do anyway?" Doesn't sound right.
I felt that Bosak was not ill-intentioned, but that he was looking at the issue in a very abstract way. Arguments on paper are all well and good, but he didn't understand — and I couldn't get across to him — what it would be like to be a woman who knows how badly pregnancy can go, looking at this law and wondering if it might mean your death.