Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Garth Rattray | Which right to life? (Part 2)

Published:Monday | July 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I always beseech women with 'inconvenient' pregnancies to keep them, and I have lived to see many of them return to show off their kids, all grown, loving and responsible, productive adults.

Many times, that is the only child that they ever have. That is often their only company, moral and sometimes financial support as they grow older. The profuse gratitude for convincing them not to terminate their pregnancies is always heart-warming.

However, on the other hand, I have seen women who were brutally raped and ended up pregnant. I never encourage them to terminate that pregnancy, but I also never discourage them because their grief and distress is always palpable. I don't believe that I have the right to judge their actions when I can never begin to imagine the horrors of being raped and subsequently impregnated by such a brutal and invasive act.

The memory of a rape is always indelibly imprinted on the mind of the victim in every gruesome detail. Sights, smells, sounds, pain, terror and stripping of all dignity never go. They must live with the emotional scar until death.

I recall an 85-year-old patient who was always a very strong woman. She worked hard both here and in England. She was always an upstanding and proud woman who made good of all the opportunities that she carved out in her life. She raised her children and was a successful businesswoman. But, one day she revealed to me her painful experience of being raped by her boss' chauffeur at 18 years old. This strong and proud woman crumbled into a quivering heap of emotions as she related the psychological pain that never left her.

If a patient is the victim of rape and impregnated by it, whereas I cannot perform terminations, I don't tell them not to do it. The mental stress is too much for some to bear, and I am in no position to make that judgement call for them.


Mental problems


And, mental problems can often be far more damaging than physical ones. They can lead to lifelong maladies like anxiety and/or depression/suicide.

There are some women who have serious medical conditions but become accidentally pregnant. I had a patient who, in spite of several antihypertensive and cholesterol-lowering medications, always presented with extremely high blood pressure readings and ridiculous cholesterol readings. She claimed that she took all her meds and that she had been adhering to the lifestyle modifications as best as she could. She was 47 years old and missed her period. She had hoped that it was early menopause, but it was not; she was pregnant.

She was already at a high risk for catastrophic cardiovascular events, and the pregnancy placed her life in extreme danger.

Whereas I do not generally believe in terminating pregnancies, this is another circumstance under which I cannot, in all conscience and for the good of my patient, advise against it. She would very likely have died and so, too, would the foetus she was carrying. By terminating the pregnancy, she would be literally saving her own life, but at the cost of the life of a six-week-old foetus.

There is a myriad of other physical conditions that could turn lethal because of a pregnancy. There are also mental-health problems that mitigate against carrying a pregnancy. As things stand, any woman who is in serious danger from a pregnancy who wishes to save her own life or secure her health must seek terminations illegally, possibly dangerously and risk a lifetime in prison.

Our laws need to also reflect the right to life (and health) of the women endangered by a pregnancy. But we only keep talking it to death.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and