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Life Of The Mother: Never A Reason For Abortion, Congressman Says

Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) right, and challenger Tammy Duckworth, left, at a televised debate at WTTW Chicago on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012.
Charles Rex Arbogast
Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) right, and challenger Tammy Duckworth, left, at a televised debate at WTTW Chicago on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012.

During a televised debate Thursday on Chicago's WTTW, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) reiterated his opposition to abortion in any circumstance. It's similar to the Republican Party's national platform, which doesn't have any exceptions for abortion in the case of rape or incest. Walsh is taking it a step further — banning abortion to save the life of the mother.

"I'm pro life without exception. Understand though, that when we talk about exceptions, we talk about rape, incest, health of a woman, life of a woman. Life of the woman is not an exception," he said.

Tammy Duckworth, Walsh's Democratic opponent in Illinois' 8th congressional district race immediately denounced Walsh, saying the incumbent congressman would let a woman die rather than permit her access to abortion. Walsh contradicted her, saying she was unfair.

Walsh didn't have time to explain his stance more fully during the event, and reporters questioned him afterward. CNN says Walsh claimed "there's no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology. Health of the mother has been, has become a tool for abortions any time under any reason."

When questioned by WGN radio, Walsh seemed to indicate that women no longer face life threatening pregnancies: "Absolutely. With modern technology and science, you can't find one instance."

Walsh's biological knowledge of women's reproductive health is off, notes the Huffington Post, which points to statistics from the National Institutes of Health. One risk women may face during pregnancy is a life threatening ectopic pregnancy; this occurs when a fetus forms outside the uterus. The fetus cannot survive. The NIH estimates an ectopic pregnancy can "occur in 1 in every 40 to 1 in every 100 pregnancies".

Walsh's statement is reminiscent of controversial Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). Earlier this year, Akin triggered an uproar by remarking that women can't get pregnant if they're raped. He said, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down". Akin later apologized, saying he "misspoke" by failing to communicate the empathy he has for rape and abuse victims.

Update at 1:41 p.m. ET. Pregnancy Not 'Risk-Free Life Event':

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement about this issue a short while ago. They say Walsh's comments are simply not accurate. Pregnancy, they say, is "not a risk-free life event."

The statement continues:

"Despite all of our medical advances, more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the US. In fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives.

"These inaccurate comments are yet another reason why The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (The College) message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms."

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Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.
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