At Secular Pro-Life, we discuss later abortion frequently.
Sometimes pro-choice people ask why we focus so much on later abortion when we oppose all abortion; if we think it’s wrong to kill embryos or fetuses at any stage, why the emphasis on later stages?
Well, for several reasons. Here is a list.
1. There are pervasive myths about later abortion.
There are some people who are comfortable with the pro-choice position in part because they believe comforting myths. Some of those myths include the idea that later abortions hardly ever happen, that when they do happen it’s only for medical emergencies, or that when they happen it is just premature induction of labor with the intent of a live birth. We want people to understand that these ideas do not describe the reality of later abortion, and to the extent their pro-choice position rests on pleasant fictions, we would like them to reconsider.
2. Many arguments used to justify earlier abortion also justify later abortion.
Polls consistently show that people are more comfortable with earlier abortion and get a lot less comfortable with later abortion. We want them to understand that many of the arguments used to justify earlier abortion would also justify later abortion. Some examples:
- You aren’t a person until you’re born.
- You aren’t a person until you take your first breath.
- You aren’t a person until you have self-awareness.
- The government has no place telling people what they can or can’t do with their bodies.
- Men shouldn’t be making laws about women’s bodies.
- Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy.
- Abortion bans mean children will be born unwanted and/or end up in foster care.
- Abortion bans violate religious freedom.
We want people who (a) use the above arguments to justify early abortion but (b) don’t believe later abortion is justified to think about that apparent contradiction.
3. Post-viability abortion suggests abortion isn’t just about bodily rights.
When we talk about later abortion, we are typically talking about abortion at 21 weeks or later. When we talk about viability, we are typically talking about the 24 week mark (although children as young as 22 weeks have survived). By these definitions, not all later abortions are post-viability abortions.
But there are post-viability abortions done for non-medical reasons. Katrina Kimport discusses a few specific examples in her paper “Is third-trimester abortion exceptional? Two pathways to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in the United States.“
Post-viability abortion specifically entails first inducing fetal demise (typically either by injecting a feticide into the fetal heart or amniotic fluid, or by transecting the umbilical cord), followed by labor and delivery.
If abortion were only about the right to refuse the use of your body to another person, there would be no justification for inducing fetal demise. In this context, abortion doesn’t prevent the woman from having to endure labor and delivery. Instead it means she will deliver a dead child.
4. Later abortion involves an increased risk the fetus can feel pain.
While all deaths are horrific, the death of a person who can’t feel any pain is slightly less horrific than the death of a person who can feel a lot of pain.
[Read more – Fetal pain in the first trimester]
5. The ethical balance shifts further toward not aborting as the pregnancy goes on.
The abortion debate is a conflict of rights issue: it’s a conflict between the rights of women to control our bodies and the rights of embryos and fetuses to not be unjustly killed. However you think those rights balance out, the balance shifts more toward the rights of fetuses to not be killed as the pregnancy progresses. This idea was recognized in Roe v. Wade when the Supreme Court created different limitations on abortion laws based on a trimester framework.
I do believe it’s immoral to kill prenatal humans at any stage in pregnancy, but I also think the situation worsens as the pregnancy progresses because the comparative burden on the woman to keep the child alive lessens the entire time. An abortion at 28 weeks is worse than an abortion at 6 weeks in part because there was less the woman would have had to do to let the baby live.
There are plenty of reasons you can oppose abortion at any stage and simultaneously believe later abortion deserves specific attention.