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Ethics — Ectopic Pregnancy and the Principle of Double Effect


What is the Church’s teaching on ectopic pregnancies?

in overly simplistic terms, the question comes down to is, is it considered an abortion, or moral to terminate an ectopic pregnancy to save the life of the mother?

Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy is fatal for the fetus. It cannot survive outside of the uterus. Quick treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is important to protect the mother’s life. If the egg has implanted in the fallopian tube and the tube bursts, there can be severe internal bleeding.This can lead to maternal death.


Moral actions that produce two effects need to be evaluated under the Catholic understanding of the principle of double effect:

  1. The action must be either morally good or neutral.

  2. The bad effect must not be the motivation by which the good effect is achieved.

  3. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect; the bad effect can in no way be intended and must be avoided if possible.

  4. The good effect must be at least equivalent in proportion to the bad effect.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized ovum implants in the fallopian tube or in some other location. A mother facing a tubal pregnancy risks imminent rupture of the fallopian tube and thus there exists a danger to both the life of the mother and the child.

Removing the fallopian tube is considered in accordance with the principle of double effect:

  1. Removing a part of the body that is about to rupture and cause the death of the individual is a morally good action.

  2. The death of the child is not direct intention of the procedure. It is the removal of the fallopian tube that saves the life of the mother, not causes the death of the child.

  3. The death of the child is not willed and would be avoided if at all possible—if, for example, re-implantation in the womb was reasonably possible.

  4. The life of the mother is, of course, equal to the life of the child.

Many in our day suggest that abortions are okay if they intendOng to save the life of the Mother. We posit that terminating an ectopic pregnancy isn’t actually an abortion. But a tubal ligation, which is a surgical procedure designed with the good intent of saving the life of the mother.

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