Is an Embryo More Important than a Woman?

Posted on August 30, 2022 By

by Rachel MacNair


As I wade through the avalanche of post-Dobbs media coverage, I note the familiar pattern of being totally oblivious to what the objection to induced abortion is: that it kills a human being. While there exist arguments that what’s killed isn’t a human being, and other arguments that such killing is justifiable, most of the coverage ignores the point entirely.

This is customary when committing violence. Victims of war are commonly invisible as well. Killed by bombs, drone strikes, bullets – it all goes under “defense.” And therefore, they say, freedom.

But another common tack is that a woman is more important than a mere embryo. A related argument is that pro-lifers favor “forced birth.”


When considering the relationship between a mother and a prenatal baby, the mother’s decisions are the ones that determine what happens. The mother gets to decide where the prenatal baby goes. Studying in class, frolicking on the beach, working hard in an office or a factory – mom’s decision. The baby is just along for the ride. The mother decides what part of the country they live in, what they’ll eat, who they’ll interact with – everything. She’ll decide whether she’s raising the baby after birth, or making an adoption plan or other arrangements. The baby has to go with whatever she decides.

Yes, the woman or teen mom is more important when it comes to decision-making. The baby isn’t developed enough to figure out such things.

No one is proposing that an embryo or fetus is more important than other human beings. The argument is that the right to not be killed is more important than any rights that are lesser than the right to not be killed. No one even has any other rights if they don’t have the right to not be killed.

When Americans were fighting wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the number of Americans soldiers’ deaths would be reported in American media. The deaths of local people weren’t reported, as if they weren’t as important. But they were every bit as important. Wars kill people deliberately, and every single killing in these wars was wrong. Every person was important and had the right to not be killed, be they soldiers on either side or civilians, adults or teens or children or babies. Every single one.

Yet when it comes to decision-making, there’s nothing wrong with Vietnamese deciding that only Vietnamese can vote in Vietnamese elections and Americans can’t. The same goes for every other country. Citizens of age are more important as decision-makers for public policy than non-citizens or the under-age.

That doesn’t make it ok to kill or injure immigrants or kids.

“Importance” in decision-making is a separate issue from everyone having a right to not be killed.

Forced Birth?

Just about every single birth that has occurred throughout human history has been a forced birth.

The fetus was comfortable where she was, and now there’s a sudden cold and a startling slap of light. And when she lets it be known right away and in no uncertain terms that she objects, we don’t say, “oh, dear, she doesn’t like this, we’d better put her back in.”  To the contrary, we’re pleased. A robust cry means good health. So thorough is our understanding that the fetus-suddenly-turned-infant will object to birth that if she doesn’t, we worry. That’s a danger sign of poor health.

Of course, this isn’t what people who use the term “forced birth” mean. They’re referring to the mother. But here again, the term is odd. What pregnant woman wants to remain pregnant indefinitely? I kept reminding myself at the last stage of my pregnancy that the kid was a heck of a lot easier to care for inside than outside my womb. It didn’t matter. I really did want to get to birth. I daresay it would be hard to find a pregnant woman that wouldn’t find birth a better idea than keeping the baby inside endlessly.

Again, that’s not what they mean. What they mean is that they believe it’s not actually a birth if the baby comes out earlier and dead instead of later and alive. But they won’t say it that bluntly.

What if the Choice is – Which One Gets to Live?

Historically, childbirth could be dangerous enough that a midwife had to choose between mother and child. Fortunately, medicine has come a long way.

There are millions of pro-life women, so there are large numbers who have faced life-threatening pregnancies. We have every bit as much of an interest in medical care for these situations as everyone else.

Here are some situations where pregnancy might endanger the mother’s life:

Ectopic Pregnancy

The embryo never gets to the fetal stage, but is stuck outside the womb, usually in the Fallopian tubes. That baby has to be removed immediately, and won’t survive the process. She wouldn’t survive if left where she is either. There is no viable pregnancy.

Meanwhile, women who are heartbroken for the baby are a lot better off having pro-life doctors who can sympathize with them.


It’s a bit confusing that the medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous” abortion. So we need to say induced abortion is the practice we object to.

But it’s not the medical procedures involved in induced abortion that are the problem. It’s using those procedures to kill the baby. If the baby is already dead, then of course those procedures are needed to clear out the corpse that isn’t coming out on its own.

Again, many women truly need doctors to be sympathetic that a baby died; treating the child as mere medical waste can be cruel.

Medical Care for the Mother that Endangers the Baby

Conditions such as cancer or diabetes require careful management. But the baby isn’t going to do well without a healthy mother, and getting needed medical care isn’t an induced abortion nor an attempt to injure the child.

When the Pregnancy Endangers the Mother and the Baby is Old Enough to Survive

An emergency C-section takes about an hour. Inducing labor could take a few hours. The normal late-term abortion is a two-day procedure due to the need to dilate the cervix. Getting the baby out dead rather than alive isn’t better for the mother’s biological health.

In the case of a partial-birth abortion, they start the birth process and then pause it to punch a hole in the kid’s skull. How can pausing in the middle possibly be better for the mother’s biological health than just pulling the baby out without delay?

If a C-section or induced labor isn’t ideal for the baby because she’s coming out too soon, then that’s a circumstance to take into account when assessing the medical situation. But of course it’s important to save the mother’s life, and to try to save the baby’s too. If it can’t be done, then if medical care is competent at least there was no deliberate attempt to kill the baby.

The Baby’s Going to Die Soon, But Hasn’t Yet

This is the one that’s tricky, and the one that has the most horror stories in the press. But again, separating the child from the mother so she doesn’t threaten her mother’s life is intending to save someone’s life, not intending to kill a child. As with euthanasia, which can also be quite tricky, intention matters.

And to those doctors who’ve been talked about in the mainstream press’s horror stories because they’re afraid of the local prosecutor if they do competent medical care in these situations, I say: fear more the malpractice suit.

Remember, pregnant pro-life women will find themselves in such dire circumstances at roughly the same rate as other pregnant women. And activist women are all the more likely to file malpractice suits.

Finally: When the Claim is Actually a Trick

Why do legislators often take a strict and skeptical view about the “life-of-the-mother” exception? In pre-Roe days, it was often a loophole, a bold-faced lie, for doing any abortions at all.

I’d say that actually, medical personnel who try to use a life-of-the-mother exception as a dishonest cover for any abortions don’t need so much to fear the local prosecutor, who’d have a hard time making a case. Those personnel need to fear the women to whom they’re giving abortions.

Women who’ve had abortions have been joining the pro-life movement in droves all along. Pro-life conferences commonly have women telling their abortion stories – negatively, of course. Therapy groups for women who were traumatized by their abortions are a major part of what the pro-life movement does.

This is one of the major reasons pro-lifers keep saying we don’t want women prosecuted for obtaining abortions: we’re practically the lobby group for those women with negative experience.

And we know very well that these women are the ones who are most crucial to enforcing the laws. They have the needed knowledge, and once they join the pro-life movement, they have the motivation.


See also the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Health Care, signed by over 1,000 ob-gyns.

For similar posts, see:

If Men Could Get Pregnant

What Do Men Have to Say on Abortion?

No Combat Experience, No Opinion: Parallels in Pro-bombing and Pro-choice Rhetoric

How Abortion is Useful for Rape Culture

A Pro-Life Feminist Critique of the “Rape and Incest Exception”

Abortion Facilitates Sex Abuse: Documentation


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  1. Valerie Sims says:

    Your posts are always so clear-headed and are helpful in educating me abut what to say to others. My heart is there, but sometimes my voice is not as articulate as is needed. Thank you.

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