Fact Check-Termination of pregnancy can be necessary to save a woman’s life, experts say

Contrary to claims made online, certain medical conditions may require the termination of a pregnancy to avoid fatal complications for the mother.

“Abortion is never medically necessary to save a woman’s life,” reads a popular tweet ( here ), as campaigners call 2021 the “worst year” for abortion rights ( here ).

“Yes, there are absolutely certain medical conditions that warrant us to very urgently encourage a woman to have an abortion,” said Stacey Beck, MD and Assistant Professor at the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Physicians

“One of the most common reasons I help women to terminate their pregnancy is because their water is broke [early in pregnancy] and they have an infection,” Beck said.

If there’s a clear sign of infection, the condition can be life threatening, “because there is an extremely high risk that the infection inside of the uterus spreads very quickly into her bloodstream and she becomes septic. If she continues the pregnancy it comes at a very high risk of death.”

“Typically, if a woman breaks her water before 20 weeks into her pregnancy, it is usually strongly recommended by medical professionals that she considers an abortion,” Beck said.

A placental abruption, which is when the placenta starts to separate from the uterus, is another condition that could fatally impact a pregnant women’s life. It is “uncommon yet a serious condition,” the Cleveland Clinic states ( here ).

In a “small percentage of abruptions,” Beck said, if a woman is bleeding so heavily that she can go into hemorrhagic shock, “then we would also recommend a very urgent termination of pregnancy or abortion as a life saving measure for the mom, in order to prevent her bleeding to death.”

Another condition in which staying pregnant comes at a very high risk of death for the mother is preeclampsia early in pregnancy (less than 24 weeks), Beck said.

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that involves developing high blood pressure and signs of organ damage ( here , here ).

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports ( here ) that the rate of preeclampsia in the United States increased by 25% between 1987 and 2004.

The earlier it develops, the more severe it will be, according to the UK National Health System ( here ).

In a joint statement made in 2019, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Physicians for Reproductive Health said that the termination of a pregnancy in the form of abortion can be necessary to save a woman’s life.

Pregnancy “can exacerbate underlying or preexisting conditions, like renal or cardiac disease, and can severely compromise health or even cause death,” the ACOG said ( here ).

If a woman has cancer, treating her cancer in the most effective form could be limited in pregnancy.

Abortion may also be recommended, Beck said, “not necessarily for an immediate threat to the mother, but for the effective treatment of her cancer.”

The Canadian Cancer society points out ( here ) that “some cancer treatments can harm a baby” during the first trimester, thus sometimes causing treatment to be delayed until later in pregnancy.

When asked if abortions are sometimes medically necessary to save a woman’s life, Elizabeth Janiak, ScD and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School also told Reuters, “The answer is clearly yes.”

One of them is “Situations in which people are beginning to miscarry, and they experience complications that threaten their lives but the fetus still has a heartbeat.”

Not being permitted to complete the abortion or delaying it in these cases “can be deadly, if someone is developing sepsis and they are not treated, and the cause of the sepsis is the pregnant tissue being infected,” she said.

Janiak referred to the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman in Ireland who was refused a termination of her pregnancy and died of sepsis, or blood poisoning, following a miscarriage at 17 weeks ( here ).

A study from the University of Colorado on how abortion bans could increase pregnancy-related death, and more drastically for women of color, can be found here.


False. Abortion may be medically necessary to save a mother’s life.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .