Expecting mothers have employed (or been subjected to) methods as diverse as strenuous exercises, high-risk activities, physical manipulations and brutalities, invasive procedures, and a variety of natural and artificial concoctions. Contemporary legalized practices are generally far more precise and sanitary than earlier practices or in places where abortion remains illegal. In many wealthy countries, the majority of abortions are now effected through pharmaceuticals.
However precise, sanitary, and convenient legalized abortion practices may now be, induced abortion remains an act whose intent is to kill a baby in utero (pre-embryo, embryo, or fetus). This is a critical point to the moral evaluation of this act. As many definitions of induced abortion recognize, the aim of an act of abortion is not just to terminate a pregnancy but to terminate a pregnancy so that the baby in utero does not survive.
Three observations make this point clear. First, acts aimed at ending a pregnancy early while trying to save the life of the baby are common medical interventions when problems develop in late-stage pregnancies. These acts of terminating a pregnancy do not count, morally, legally, or medically, as acts of abortion even though some may involve a method also used in some abortions, such as induced labor. This is because these acts, though they terminate a pregnancy early, are not intended to cause the baby’s death but rather its survival.
Second, a moral distinction exists between abortion and a medical intervention to save the life of the mother, even in cases where the loss of a baby is a predictable outcome of the intervention. If an expecting mother is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, for example, she may need to undergo treatment that will undoubtedly result in the loss of her baby. Though this is the same outcome as an act of induced abortion, this cancer treatment does not count as an act of abortion precisely because the intervention is not administered for the purpose of preventing a live birth.
On the other hand, if an expecting mother pursued this treatment not because she had an aggressive form of cancer but because she knew it would be effective in terminating her pregnancy in such a way that her baby would not be able to survive, this would count as an act of induced abortion. The loss of her baby is no longer the tragic consequence of actions aimed at saving the mother’s life but is rather the intent of the procedure itself. Thus, what constitutes a particular act as an act of abortion is not the treatment itself but the intent to kill the baby in utero.