"Medically Necessary" or "Health" Abortions: Abortion on Demand by Another Name

In the upcoming Senate debate over partial-birth abortions, Congress may try to broaden the scope of the legislation to allow "health" or "medically necessary" abortions. These words are merely terms of art for abortion on demand:

Since the 1973 Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, federal law has interpreted "health" abortions to include all abortions performed for the sake of social or emotional "well-being" (Doe at 410 U.S. 194).

By longstanding administrative practice, in government health programs such as Medicaid, any abortion performed by a qualified medical professional is by definition, "medically necessary," no matter what the reason for it. In 1976, 300,000 Medicaid abortions were classified as "medically necessary."

Defining "medically necessary" in the course of the Hyde Amendment debate in 1978, former Senator Edward Brooke (R-MA) explained:

Through the use of language such as 'medically necessary,' the Senate would leave it to the woman and her doctor to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy, and that is what the Supreme Court of these United States has said is the law of the land.... In Doe against Bolton, the Court defined the words "medically necessary" very broadly; to allow, as the Court stated, "The attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment."
William Hamilton, vice-president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Knight-Ridder Newspapers that "medically necessary" means "anything a doctor and a woman construe to be in her best interest, whether prenatal care or abortion." (The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 8, 1993).

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) has stated that "medically necessary" is a "term which generally includes the broadest range of situations for which a state will fund abortion." (Who Decides? A Reproductive Rights Issues Manual, NARAL, 1990).

Regarding the classification of "medically necessary," Senator Bob Packwood, a leading pro-abortion advocate, has correctly noted: "Is there any abortion that couldn't fit within this definition?"

Four years after California expanded legal abortion to include those for "physical and mental health," legal abortions skyrocketed from 7,000 per year to 116,749 per year. Over 90% of these abortions were for "mental health."

NCCB, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, November 13, 1995