Birthing (a.k.a. gestation) is a constantly evolving biological process. For obvious reasons, there is no controversy more emotionally charged than that of induced termination of that process.
At the root of the seemingly unresolvable abortion issues is a gap between laws of government and those of the birthing process. Row/Wade partially succeeds in bridging that gap, but the bridge does not definitively span the second and third trimesters.
[Before I continue, I’d like to tell you about an extremely unusual event I experienced in 1959 when I was 30 years old.]
At that time, most families often did things together, including shared entertainment. One day, my dad took the family to Radio City Music Hall to see the first-run film, North by Northwest, now a classic. When we entered the 5,900-seat theater I was in awe of its cavernous size. We soon found a row of seats that would accommodate all of us and filed into it.
I sat next to what I thought was a doll. When the lights came up for the stage show, I noticed that what I had barely seen in the dark was not a doll: it was a thalidomide baby. Her head was normal, but all four limbs were miniscule and motionless, like those of a doll. I also witnessed a warm and cheerful relationship between her and her family members. I was deeply affected by that event, but ‘pro-choice’ and ‘the right to life’ never occurred to me then.]
My memory of that Radio City event has since resurfaced from time to time. Currently, that memory has been jarred by the approach of the upcoming general 2020 election. Once again, the relentless din of politicians, commentators, and social media will intensify; once again, acerbic placards will scream their terse messages; once again, there will be hair-splitting debates on federal and state abortion laws: and once again, visceral emotions will supersede reason
I wonder how many people on either side of the abortion issue are aware that “Jane Row” (Norma McCorvey) ironically converted to Catholicism, became a staunch pro-life advocate, supported the Roe No More Ministry (dissolved 2008), was the leader of a protest group of anti-abortionists who gathered in and around Nancy Pelosi’s office (2009), who expressed deep regret for her historic Supreme Court trial for legal abortion, and who said her abortion case was, “The biggest mistake in my life.”
As far as I know, Row/Wade was first to define abortion law by trimesters. Although that definition is generally useful in the monitoring of and caring for the mother and her preborn baby, it is not the principal legal factor in the development of abortion laws. Currently, it appears that whether to abort a preborn baby or not depends on its viability, i.e., when the preborn is able to survive outside of the womb. (Please humor me: though the word ‘womb’ is clinically called the ‘uterus,’ that is a word almost as objectionable to me as the word ‘entrails.’) Viability is generally attained at the last segment of the second semester, the 24th or 25th week of gestation.
Most people equate birth control pills or induced abortion within the first trimester as morally equivalent. Of course that is not true of the Catholic Church, which firmly holds that life begins at the instant of fertilization. (There is a Christian religious sect which sites an Old Testament scripture that at least implies that life begins before fertilization. That Bible passage reads: “Before you were in your mother’s womb I knew you.” That ambiguous passage is interpreted by many as not necessarily literal or, by others, as a reference to God’s omniscience. In any case, many pro-life and anti-abortionists alike justify their position on abortion with very different answers to the question, “When does life begin?” But that question is a construct designed to accommodate just about any intact position on abortion.
Until recently, the secular answer to that question was, “Life begins at birth” or, more technically, “Life begins when an ovem and sperm unite” (fertilization). In the legal and medical world today, that almost universal answer has given way to several new answers, the principal one of which is, “When the baby is ‘viable,’ i.e., when the baby is able to survive outside of the womb.) It legally follows that viability forbids legal abortion, as do Row/Wade and other abortion laws—almost.
I suspect that many viable babies are aborted under somewhat furtive late term abortions that are purported to protect the health of the mother. But whatever guards may be in place to avoid that loophole (including restrictive abortion measures) the Partial Abortion Act is a feeble euphemism for irreversible abortion: a baby is either alive or dead. Often it is the mother and her doctor who decide whether or not the baby is ‘viable,’ or to be precise, whether or not the mother and doctor comply with the law or claim that the mother’s health is endangered.
It is difficult enough to adjudicate the ethical, medical, and moral ramifications of abortion without adding intrinsically chaotic politics into the mix of the abortion controversy. Politics reeks with misrepresentation, greed, and lies. Even Norma McCorvey lied to achieve her right to abort, but she had her baby anyway, after (!) the historic ruling for legal abortion. She later switched to an anti-abortion stance and even considered action to reverse the outcome of the 1973 Supreme Court decision. Those facts alone highlight the conundrum of the abortion controversy.
A little more than a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld a federal law known as the Partial Abortion Act, which prohibits specific abortion procedures. That is a federal law, as opposed to a state law, because several procedures are now and in the future may be Draconian. The ruling is a departure from past High Court decisions which required that any restrictive abortion law include an exception to protect a woman’s health.
While surfing through state abortion laws on the Internet, I read that a judge was asked a question about the status of a preborn baby’s pain in the 5th week of pregnancy. The judge responded, “We don’t ask that question because the 5th week of pregnancy is prior to viability.”
The abortion controversy is exasperated by contradictions and fueled by fierce political partisanship; e.g., “A preborn baby is incapable of experiencing pain until its neurological cells are at a specific stage of prenatal consciousness!”…“No! You’re wrong, the ‘Silent Scream’ is not just an electrical reflex”…“The heart of the unborn is not destroyed, as you claim. Those pulsating cells have not yet coalesced into a heart!”…“You are parsing words and concepts, those cells are in the process of creating a heart!” All of the above is heavily laced with expletives. Abortion laws don’t include expletives but most of them further obfuscate the abortion issue with the use of three legalistic double-u words: wherefore, wherein, and whereof.
Whatever rationalizations and arguments are made in defense of or in opposition to abortion, the days, weeks, and trimesters in pregnancy whiz by. Given the uncertainties associated with late-term abortions, I think a woman should decisively resolve her position on abortion apart from and before becoming pregnant, with or without her consent. Of course I agree with the axiomatic premise that a woman has a right to her own body, but it’s disingenuous to deny that there is a point of time in the gestation process when there is a sentient human being in her body. The hypothetical question, “When does a baby become a human being?” is irrelevant: human parents do not conceive gold fish or elephants.
Following are excerpts from the United States Code 1531.
A] Any physician who knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion and thereby kills a human fetus shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. This subsection does not apply to a partial-birth abortion that is necessary to save the mother whose life is endangered by a physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused or arising from the pregnancy itself.
B] …the person performing the abortion deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation or, in the case of a breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act, that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus…
[I believe the mother is key to solving problems inherent to induced abortion. I also believe that when she becomes aware that she is pregnant but wants an abortion, her best action is to get an abortion as soon as she possibly can for the good of both the baby and herself. My suggestion is based on the fact that the baby is incapable of experiencing pain in the first semester. That is not so in late-term abortions. The later an abortion, the more likely are abortive complications.
I suppose I over-identify with other people, including mothers and unborn children. But there is something profoundly disturbing about late-term abortion. I’m haunted by the thought that the last if not only feeling a baby may experiences in its fleeting lifespan may be the pain of abortion.]
Please note: Of course this article is simplistic when juxtaposed to the knowledge and opinions of fine gynecologists and obstetricians. But it is not guided by partisanship. I categorically think that abortion should not be sullied by politics.