A group of people were clustered around my desk, waiting for a meeting to start.  I asked them what their chance of dying would have to be before they considered a condition to be “life threatening.”  Their answers ranged from 1-10%.

But when a woman needs an abortion, if Medicaid is to cover it, in some states (e.g. Pennsylvania), at least two doctors have to certify that the woman WILL DIE if she doesn’t have an abortion.

I read somewhere (and I can’t find the source, so I can’t verify this) that Louisiana Medicaid said a woman has to have at least a 50% chance of dying for her pregnancy to be considered life threatening.

Calling the life endangerment “life of the mother” rather than “life of the woman” or “life of the pregnant woman” does two things: (1) it reduces the woman to her relationship with a fetus and (2) it is a reminder of the self-sacrificing behaviors we generally expect of mothers in particular.

One might point out that carrying a pregnancy to term is substantially more life threatening than having an abortion (a recent study, cited below, states the risk of death is 14 times higher for childbirth).  This in itself might indicate that all pregnancies are inherently life threatening.

In considering what risks are acceptable for Medicaid or other insurance coverage for abortion, we should consider pregnancy as we consider other health conditions.  If one’s chance of dying from the condition reaches a certain threshold, it is life threatening.  If having the condition raises one’s chance of death by a certain factor, the condition is considered more dangerous than the process used to remove the condition.

A woman’s health and her life are of value or they are not, just as they are with any human being.  It is true that we have ghastly health policies that do not value the health and lives of poor people in general.  That is the moral issue we should confront.

Pennsylvania life endangerment information: http://www.nirhealth.org/sections/ourprograms/documents/removingbarriers2.pdf

Difficulty in determining what constitutes “life endangerment”: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/05/22/the-fallacy-of-rape-incest-and-life-endangerment-clauses/

Overview of state Medicaid coverage for abortion: http://kff.org/medicaid/state-indicator/abortion-under-medicaid/

Recent study showing chances of death from abortion vs. childbirth: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22270271