Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Matter of Weeks

An anti recently asked me, how late into a pregnancy should a woman be able to have an abortion? Because she asked me this in the comment section of Feminists for Choice, I kept my answer short and sweet, and simply said that that was something for a woman and her doctor to decide. I don’t think she really liked my response.

I’ve thought about this question a lot, and discussed it a lot over the years with friends and colleagues. And the answer I keep coming back to is exactly what I told that commenter: that it’s between a woman and her doctor.

Late-term abortions are almost overwhelmingly done because of health reasons. Either the fetus has been diagnosed with abnormalities that are incompatible with life, or the woman’s health is in such grave danger that continuing the pregnancy could be fatal (“health” can include not just a woman’s physical condition, but her mental and emotional state as well).

I’ve often said that no woman chooses to have an abortion on a whim, and this is doubly true for a late-term termination. The procedure generally takes several days, costs thousands of dollars, and more often then not requires women to travel significant distances to one of the few providers in the country that will perform abortions after 24 weeks.

Over the past year or so, the anti-choice movement has put forth the idea of fetal pain. Frankly, I think that this is bullshit. There is no science proving that such a thing exists; in fact, most experts are doubtful that an in-utero fetus is developed enough to recognize pain. Besides that, if a fetus actually can feel pain before it is born, wouldn’t the birth process just be agonizingly painful?

That’s just speculation, of course—much as the entire issue of fetal pain appears to be. What is not speculation are the actual, very real and very serious, circumstances that cause a woman to choose late-term abortion. Every case is different, but what connects them all is that this is an exceedingly personal and painful choice. So who am I to say when a woman can no longer be allowed to choose? I’m not a doctor, nor a pregnant woman. All I know is that if I were pregnant and found that either my health was at risk or my fetus would not survive childbirth, I would want every choice available, up to and including the right to an abortion.

The politicians behind Nebraska and Indiana’s 20-week limit are using their own paternalistic agenda to curtail the rights of women and families, and that is repugnant. How is it their right to tell someone what to do with their own health, with their own body? How does the decision of a woman they will never meet, whose name they will never know, affect their own well-being?

No matter the number of weeks, it is a personal decision. End of discussion.


  1. Read about Steven Tyler's late-term aborted baby? There was no good reason for it other than the mother was first exploited and then coerced...

  2. You're always so articulate - I think that no matter what stage an abortion occurs in, it's absolutely between a woman and her health care provider. I trust women. Period.

  3. Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus. Neither withdrawal reflexes nor hormonal stress responses to invasive procedures prove the existence of fetal pain, because they can be elicited by nonpainful stimuli and occur without conscious cortical processing.

    Fetal awareness of noxious stimuli requires functional thalamocortical connections. Thalamocortical fibers begin appearing between 23 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, while electroencephalography suggests the capacity for functional pain perception in preterm neonates probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks.

    Sentience -
    Functional maturity of the cerebral cortex is suggested by fetal and neonatal electroencephalographic patterns...First, intermittent electroencephalograpic bursts in both cerebral hemispheres are first seen at 20 weeks gestation; they become sustained at 22 weeks and bilaterally synchronous at 26 to 27 weeks.

    A ban on abortion after 20 weeks for fetal pain is not just ridiculous but has NO basis in SCIENCE!