At the center of the abortion debate is the issue of when life truly begins. Those who support abortion argue that a fetus is not a human, simply a clump of cells. Those who oppose abortion believe that life begins at conception, the moment when a unique individual is formed.
Viability is the ability for a fetus to survive outside the womb. Although viability appears to be a reasonable cutoff for abortion, modern science and medical advancements prove that viability is not what determines humanity. We should err on the side of caution by passing laws that protect the unborn at their earliest stages instead of allowing abortion up to the point of viability. Abortion cutoffs need to be set at earlier stages not dependent on viability.
Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, said “as medical science becomes better able to provide for the separate existence of the fetus, the point of viability is moved further back towards conception.” In the 1980s, the gestational age of viability was marked at 28 weeks. But with recent scientific and medical advances, premature babies are able to survive outside the womb as early as 21 weeks old. For infants younger than 22 weeks, the survival rate has improved from 3.6% to 20% over the last decade.
Edward Bell, a neonatologist at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, said “I’ve been in this business for 40 years, and I’ve seen the threshold of viability move back about one week every 10 years or so in my practice.”
A lot of people agree that if a child can survive outside the womb, abortion should not be allowed because the child is a human being and is entitled to life and legal protection at that point. Currently 18 states have legalized abortion up to the point of viability, and five states allow abortion up to 24 weeks. The states’ definitions of viability vary between 24-28 weeks, even though babies can now survive outside the womb as early as 22 weeks.
If the line of viability keeps getting pushed back every couple of years, does it really make sense that viability is what makes someone human? And if the age of viability is already at the 22-week mark currently, what will fetus viability look like in 20 years with further medical and technological advancements?
The point at which a fetus becomes a human should not shift over time based on current medical technology. A man having a heart attack is still a human even though he can’t survive on his own without medical interventions and care. Similarly, a fetus born at 22 weeks is still a human even though they depend on medical interventions such as a ventilator. Viability keeps shifting because of medical advances, which increase the likelihood of survival.
Viability does not determine humanity. A fetus can’t be labeled a clump of cells during one decade and a human the next based on scientific advancements and available medical interventions. People may disagree on when a fetus becomes a human, but viability is clearly not the answer.
Some people who support abortion argue that women have a right to their own body and the choices that ensue regardless of a child’s viability because the fetus is merely a clump of cells, not a human being. I agree that women have a right to their body and their choices. However, one’s autonomy is limited when another life is involved.
Every right we have as American citizens is limited to some degree. In the case of pregnancy it is no longer just the woman. There is another life, equally valuable, unique and important. Abortion is not just a medical procedure that affects the woman alone.
During second trimester surgical abortions, between 14-24 weeks, the doctor removes the fetus with suction and curettage, which sometimes results in dismemberment. The abortion can be incomplete when pieces of the dismembered fetus are left in the woman’s uterus, requiring a follow up visit to fully extract the remaining parts of the child.
Abortion does not just involve the mother — there is a separate life involved. These medical procedures would not be necessary if there was truly just one person or just a clump of cells involved. That child is entitled to the same rights as the woman, regardless of age, size, location or any other developmental factors.
Millions of children have been aborted since 1973, when abortion was first legalized. The only difference between aborted children and everyone else alive today is that some mothers decided to choose life.
Viability keeps getting pushed back earlier and earlier because of medical science advancements. If this line keeps shifting, it’s apparent that viability and access to medical interventions has nothing to do with determining humanity. Ultimately, there is no difference between a 5-week-old baby and a 35-week-old baby other than simple human developmental stages. We need to protect life at all stages because human life is valuable, precious and worth defending.