Termination of Pregnancy, Article 40.3.3, and the Law of Intended Consequences

Shane N. Glackin & Simon Mills

Much of the public debate concerning the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 (2013 Bill) has either presumed or explicitly claimed that “abortion” is never necessary to save the life of the mother, since procedures intended to save the life of the mother are not “direct” or “intentional” terminations and therefore, by definition, not abortions. The 2013 Bill itself seems to imply sympathy with this view; others have claimed that it renders the 2013 Bill unnecessary. We trace this claim to the Thomist “Doctrine of Double Effect”, which is a mainstay of Catholic moral theology, and examine its plausibility in real-life medical cases. We focus in particular on the example of ectopic pregnancy. It is implausible, we argue, that the distinction typically drawn by Catholic theologians between the various procedures available for treating such unviable and life-threatening pregnancies can be explained by either directness or intention. Indeed, no single principle seems capable of distinguishing such cases in a medically or morally significant manner. “Abortion”, then, even narrowly defined as the “direct” and “intentional” termination of a pregnancy, is sometimes necessary and appropriate to save the life of the mother; and “abortion” in this sense is accordingly permitted under the terms of the 2013 Bill.

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