Defining a “therapeutic abortion” is difficult because of the subjective nature of decisions made about potential morbidity and mortality in pregnant women. After all, a variety of medical conditions in pregnant women have the potential to affect their health and cause complications that may be life-threatening.
Most abortion providers consider all abortions to be elective, i.e., a voluntary decision made by the patient herself. Of course, there are medical factors both maternal and fetal that can contribute to the decision and when those factors are considered the procedure is termed a therapeutic abortion. Among the factors are:
Medical illness in the mother where the continuation of the pregnancy has the potential to threaten her life or health. The total incidence of malignancy during pregnancy is estimated at 1 case per 1000 pregnancies. The most common malignancies found in pregnant women mirror those found in non-pregnant women and include the following: cervical cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and colorectal carcinoma;
Rape or incest; and
Fetal anomalies when the pregnancy outcome is likely to be birth of a child with significant mental or physical defects or high likelihood of intrauterine or neonatal death. The decision to continue or abort a pregnancy complicated by fetal anomalies is a difficult decision and the most difficult decisions are associated with anomalies that are unpredictable or highly variable in their expression.