Ethical Can of Worms

10 Feb

This is a post I’ve been thinking about since I started my blog almost a year ago and I finally got to actually writing when a group of us began having a discussion about late term abortions. Modern day medical technology limits the viability of a fetus at 20-odd weeks. The majority of abortions are done before any chance of viability, except where the woman can’t get funding, or there is a fetal defect or health hazard past the point of viability requiring termination. At the moment, everything works out pretty well. Viability is after the fetus can feel pain and after most abortions and women get to control their own bodies because forcing them to carry a pregnancy to term is effectively assault. But medical technology is advancing, and advancing quickly. What happens when viability begins to encroach on the gestation when the majority of abortions occur, in the first trimester? What happens when there is an alternative to abortion or carrying a pregnancy to term?

I am fully aware that this will be incredibly controversial in the pro-choice world but I’ve never shied away from a controversy. The time in the future is one where a fetus can be ‘delivered’ at 10-12 weeks and implanted into a surrogate uterus when the pregnancy is unwanted. At this point in the future, and I am certain we will get there eventually, there is an alternative to forcing a woman through a pregnancy that doesn’t require termination of the pregnancy. The question becomes, do women have the right to control their genetic material?

Assuming a woman would be allowed to “deliver” a pre-term fetus that could be carried full term in a surrogate uterus, should women be allowed to decide to abort the fetus, thus controlling their genetic material? There are many problems with the adoption system and many women have told their stories about the horrors and the pain of adoption. I know a woman who adopted a child and had vowed to never do it again; meaning if she had found herself with another unwanted pregnancy she would have chosen to abort. Setting aside these arguments, which is perhaps pushing this hypothetical into fantasyland, should a woman be allowed to decide whether her genetics are perpetuated? I can’t say that I have an answer for this and this is a pretty fantastical proposition, but we cannot ignore the possibility of one day reaching this point. Perhaps by then birth control will have a 100% effectiveness rate and the patriarchy will have been destroyed, ensuring women aren’t raped, meaning there are no unwanted pregnancies. But maybe not. Maybe we will actually find our society in a situation where a woman has 3 choices when faced with an unwanted pregnancy: carry to term, abort, or implantation in a surrogate womb. What then?

Stemming from this hypothetical, I always say that I support a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy at any time. Pre-viability that is abortion and post-viability that is delivery. I would not agree with abortion of a healthy fetus in the third trimester, post-viability, but I believe a woman has the right to deliver at any point post-viability for any reason. There is no need to outlaw post-viability abortions if women are allowed to deliver after that stage. But this goes back to the hypothetical, should a woman have a right to control her genetics, for whatever reason, and terminate regardless? I really don’t have an answer to this question. Clearly there is a big difference between a 10 week old fetus and a 30 week old fetus and that adds complexity to the question. What I do know is that post-viability a woman should 100% have the right to deliver the fetus for any reason whatsoever. If a woman no longer wants to be pregnant, nobody should be able to force her. I realize pre-term delivery has implications for the long-term health of the fetus, but I will not cross the line and deny a woman her humanity; her inalienable right to control what happens to her own body.

Setting aside the unknowns, if there was an alternative to pregnancy before 20 weeks that wasn’t abortion, should women still have a right to abort?

8 Responses to “Ethical Can of Worms”

  1. Rob Bowen February 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I say a woman should have the right to do with her body, and control her genetic material as she sees fit. As I look forward, I cannot see changing this opinion en mass. If a woman gets pregnant, forcing her to carry the child to term, forcing her to give the child up (which has been shown to be more traumatic for the woman than an abortion) is not a choice that the government or anyone else can make for her.

    And I know that some anti will read this and respond with that old tired reflection of logic and say that if a woman doesn’t want to get pregnant, then she shouldn’t have sex. Which is ridiculous. That would be like saying anyone who gets cancer doesn’t get treatment because they knowingly lived in today’s modern society where just breathing the air and drinking the water can give you cancer. Pregnancy is as much a potential side-effect of sex as STI’s are, and to say that women with unwanted pregnancies don’t deserve the treatment they seek is nothing but a biased double standard that stems from the religious idea that sex is only for procreation.

    Of course, that is just my opinion and two cents on the topic.

  2. Jenni February 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Absolutely she should be allowed to abort. It’s not the viability or inviability of the fetus that decides it’s the fact that the uterus in question belongs to someone- the woman. A friend of mine says that we pro-choicers’ decision to use the term fetus is personal. To us it’s a fetus but to the woman who wants the baby it’s a baby. I tend to agree, and think that his point is made clear when we think about things in terms of the future like this. We have so relied on that viability and the fact that it’s a “fetus” to be a mark, but it needn’t be THE mark. In order to protect our rights far into the future the idea needs to be that anything regarding a woman’s uterus is her choice and her choice alone.

    I shutter to think of the world when babies can be grown in the way mentioned above if only because all the so-called moral majority will see are potential pew fillers. They don’t really value life, not this one anyway.

  3. freewomyn February 10, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    These are all interesting questions. I still have a lot of confusion about late-term abortion, and I don’t know that I will ever have an answer as to the medical necessity. Ultimately, the bottom line is that a woman has the right to control her own body and make her own health care decisions. Period.

    Can you please clarify what you mean by abortion v. delivery? Thanks!

  4. Not Guilty February 10, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I find your comments all very interesting. I truly grapple with my position on this topic and I’m not sure where I stand. On one hand I feel like the entire point is that a pre-term fetus can’t survive outside the womb so its death is merely a consequence of its eviction and biological inability to survive outside. Thus if at 20 weeks it can survive, is it really legitimate to abort anyways? As I said, currently it is a moot point since most abortions occur way before viability and as Canada demonstrates, when abortion is cheap/free and readily accessible, women abort ASAP (90% before 12 weeks; 9% between 12-20 weeks). Hopefully it is many decades, if ever, that we reach the point of fake uteri.

    @Freewomyn, what I mean by delivery is basically give birth. As in a woman who is pregnant should be entitled to end the pregnancy at any point. IMO, if the fetus is viable that means she can simply give birth and it can continue living outside her uterus. I realize that women don’t just get to 25-30 weeks and decide they don’t want to be pregnant, but they should still have the right to make that decision. I think that an important aspect of abortion rights is birth rights. Does that clarify it?

  5. Not Guilty February 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    I would not agree with abortion of a healthy fetus in the third trimester, post-viability, …

    I would also like to point out that whether or not *I* agree with a woman’s decision, that doesn’t mean my opinion should be law. It’s my personal decision. I’m capable of being personally pro-life, unlike SOME people…

  6. Janel February 11, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    I’ll leave the hypothetical fetus transplant to others to argue, but I do want to be clear that barring that sort of sci-fi, viability is not what you’d call likely to encroach on the first trimester anytime soon. The barrier to viability moving back any further is lung development. Before that point somewhere roughly around the 22-week mark, it’s just not there. At that mark, the ability to breathe and indeed survive is very touch-and-go, requiring intense medical intervention for survival. That line’s been “stuck” where it is now for quite a while for a reason.

  7. lyahdan February 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    I was about to make a similar point to Janel there. The viability line is a fairly hard biological one. I wouldn’t even push it back to 20 weeks even though a tiny percentage of preterm infants born that young have survived. The intervention required for that is massive, and the possible health effects are not trivial.

    Should we develop science-fictiony artificial wombs that could gestate zygotes/embryos/fetuses safely at any point (which I think is unlikely to even be within my lifetime)you wind up with a whole host of questions.

    The idea of what makes a person a person becomes of greater interest. I still can’t see any argument for pushing that back to the very earliest stages however. Calling a blastocyst or early embryo a person doesn’t make sense.

    And then we get into the cost. Would we require women to pay for this artificial gestation rather than abort an unwanted pregancy? Who would be paying for not only all those unwanted children, but the technology to bring them into the world at all?


  1. Tweets that mention Ethical Can of Worms | Abortion Gang -- - February 10, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by angryhippie, The Abortion Gang. The Abortion Gang said: new post: Ethical Can of Worms #prochoice […]

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