Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Viability - how can life BEGIN only when we are pretty sure it won't end???

4D Ultrasound of a 24 week viable fetus
what abortion did to another 5 month old

One pro-abortion argument in my Crux of the Issue post that I didn't address goes something like this:  "The point where the fetus becomes viable is the most crucial point that can be used to determine when we should and shouldn't perform some/all abortions."

What does viability mean,  and what determines the point of viability?

Viability refers to the ability of the fetus to survive outside of the mother's womb.  The more interesting question though, is when is a fetus designated as viable?  Well that depends on a number of things.  First, at what point in history are you asking this question?  In the 1970's, babies born before 28 weeks were basically doomed.  Now, that threshold has been pushed back to 24 weeks, and some have survived when born around 21 weeks.

Technology and a greater understanding of neonatology have pushed the barrier back a few weeks closer to conception in the last 40 years, and this is an important point.  Fetal development has not changed in the last 40 years, only our understanding and ability to support a fetus outside of the womb has changed.  A fetus at 24 weeks that now has a chance at a long, full life is no different than a fetus at 24 weeks in the 70's that was almost certainly going to die.  Fetal viability is largely a function of our abilities, not the fetus's.  So why should we use this as a benchmark as to when we can abort or kill the fetus?

Are you saying that life begins at viability?

In light of the fact that the point of viability of the fetus is dependent on our knowledge and not the development of the fetus, this would seem to be a very poor spot to mark the beginning of life.  It would mean that a baby in the 18oo's and a baby in this century and possibly (if they ever figure out how to simulate a uterus) a baby born in the next century all had lives that began in different places.  This is of course the pinnacle of inconsistency, and therefore viability cannot determine when life begins.

There is another logical problem with stating that life begins at viability.  If viability is determined by the point at which it can survive outside the womb, that means that it is the point where the fetus has a good chance of not dying.  Of course, if something is going to die, it has to be alive first; this is kind of hard to get around.

Most abortion advocates are astute enough to recognize these points, which is why many resort to the whole "it may be alive, but it hasn't reached it's potential yet" which I addressed in the Crux post.  In short, if someone is alive, we have no business judging the value of their lives, especially if it is based on some threshold of potential that no one agrees upon.  By extension of this logic we might as well kill all the poor people in the world.  After all, you could say they haven't reached their potential, and they are just another mouth to feed, just like any unwanted baby.  Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  Of course it does, but this is where the logic of the abortion rights movement leads us, and it is also where it started:
"The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it." Margaret Sanger (editor). The Woman Rebel, Volume I, Number 1. Reprinted in Woman and the New Race. New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922.

If we can do some abortions, we can do any and all abortions.

If viability is not indicative of the beginning of human life, then why should it have any impact on whether or not an abortion can be performed?  Often, the more serious abortion advocates also dismiss the threshold of viability as a useful point to determine if and when we should be able to perform an abortion.  They support abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy. 

It's perfectly viable if you leave it where it is supposed to be in the first place.

I can see being concerned about viability when dealing with a mother who is trying to carry her child to term and may deliver prematurely; surely you would want to do whatever you can to stave off the delivery until after viability has been reached.  This gives you increased odds of the continued survival of the fetus (note the word continued).

However, if you are trying to decide whether you can morally kill a fetus (or "terminate a pregnancy") that has every chance of living a full life if left to its own devices whether it is at 8 months or 8 weeks of gestation, it seems you have already ignored viability as a reason not to abort.


Really, there are two possibilities here when we look at the big picture in the abortion debate.  Either abortion takes an innocent human life, and represents the most fundamental human rights violation, or abortion does not take an innocent human life, and banning it would be a violation of the rights of the mother to do what she wishes with her own body.  

If fetal viability cannot speak to when life begins, than it can have no bearing on whether an abortion should or should not be done.  After all, many premature babies are not viable outside of their incubators, many are not viable without a respirator, and absolutely zero babies are viable without someone to feed and care for them every hour of the day.  Our viability has never made us more or less human, or at least it shouldn't.  

This leads us back (yet again) to the Crux of the Issue.  If an embryo or a fetus is an innocent living human being, we cannot kill it, whether it is "viable" or not.