October 22, 2012 — Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) on Friday slightly tempered his previous comments that abortion is never necessary to save a woman's life, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Facing criticism from the medical community, abortion-rights supporters and his Democratic challenger in the Illinois congressional race, Tammy Duckworth, Walsh called a press conference to "clarify" his remarks. He said there are "very rare circumstances" in which a woman might need an abortion to save her life (Secter, Chicago Tribune, 10/19).
"When it comes to having an abortion to save the life of the mother, I will say again that outside of the very rare circumstances, such as ectopic pregnancies, during which both the mother and baby will die if the baby is not aborted, and other rare health issues and circumstances, the research is pretty clear that with the advances in modern medicine an invasive and traumatic procedure like abortion is often, thankfully, not necessary to save the life of a mother," Walsh said at the press conference (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/19).
Walsh first mentioned the issue on Thursday during an debate on a Chicago news program with Duckworth. Walsh stated he opposes abortion "without exception," including in cases of rape, incest and to protect a woman's life or health.
After the show, reporters asked Walsh if he meant that it is never medically necessary to perform an abortion to save a woman's life. "Absolutely," he responded.
"With modern technology and science, you can't find one instance," Walsh said, adding, "There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing" (Pearson/Eldeib, WGN Radio, 10/18).
Backlash Over Remarks
Physicians rebuked Walsh for the medically inaccurate remarks, and his political opponents used the issue to emphasize the contrast between Walsh and Duckworth, who supports abortion rights (Deprez/Rowley, Bloomberg Businessweek, 10/20).
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement that abortions "are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health." ACOG noted that even with modern medical advances, more than 600 women die annually in the U.S. from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. "[M]any more women would die" without safe abortion access, the statement added.
Walsh's comments quickly drew comparisons to Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) remark earlier this year that pregnancy rarely results from "legitimate rape" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/19).
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who last year spoke on the House floor about needing an abortion to save her life, said, "I don't know what these Republican congressmen drink that make them experts on women's reproductive health." She said that "any OB-GYN ... can identify cases in their practice where a second-trimester abortion was necessary because of imminent septic shock or maternal death" (Robillard, Politico, 10/20).