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Is removing an ectopic an abortion?




Technically speaking, an abortion and removing an ectopic pregnancy are not the same thing. Medically, an abortion is the loss of a pregnancy within the uterus, whereas an ectopic pregnancy (or more precisely an extra uterine pregnancy) is one that occurs outside the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube, where it is called a tubal ectopic pregnancy.


However the Maltese criminal code does not specify what an abortion is. Moreover our colleagues at Doctors for Life continue to insist that life begins at fertilisation. If that is the case, then any life, in any part of the body, is sacrosanct. Your readers should know that very, very rarely it is possible for an extra uterine pregnancy, for example within the abdomen itself, to result in a viable pregnancy. This is removed as soon as the diagnosis is made. I myself came across one of these cases several years ago. The diagnosis had been delayed because the woman had hidden her pregnancy, and fortunately had remained clinically well.


This is of course extremely rare but it raises the issue of whether surgical removal of an ectopic pregnancy (necessary to save the woman’s life) should be considered the same as an abortion, according to Maltese law, given that in both cases a human life is ended. So Doctors for Life, is an ectopic pregnancy alive? If it is then administering methotrexate in certain specific circumstances will cause death of the early embryo. Is this an abortion or is it not?


By Prof Isabel Stabile