by Dr Makini McGuire-Brown
What a world we live in when I have to write educational articles on both infertility and abortion out of a necessity for increasing the knowledge base and decreasing the ignorance all in the same year. Full disclosure, I can’t say that I take lightly people expelling foetuses from their homes but it is also not lost on me the myriad of unfortunate circumstances that are extremely psychologically challenging that may generate the desire to do so, not the least of which being rape and incest, which some of the current legislation do not make concessions for. So all we’re going to do in this article today is enlighten so that no matter which side you lean to or how neutral you are we can all do so with the facts under our belts.
The age limit
Some laws prohibit abortion only after a certain time in the womb. Where do these age limits come from? Originally these limits were said based on the age of viability. That is, the age at which the foetus can likely survive outside of the womb (with medical care) without serious morbidity. The age of viability was as much as 28 weeks gestational age (in the womb) at one time but with advancing technology and medical research, that age dropped to the 24 weeks that can be seen in some laws. The WHO even cites 22 weeks as an age of viability. It can never truly be universal because health systems are not of universal standard and so one foetus may survive in this health system but not in another; each foetus is also unique. Some laws however cite 15 weeks as the age at after which abortion is not allowed. Why? Let’s explore what a “15 weeker” looks like.
When is a baby a baby?
Embryology is just absolutely amazing. Baby’s have a little heartbeat from as early as the 6 weeks into the pregnancy, which means when most mother’s have their first ultrasound when they’ve only just realised that they’re pregnant they can see a little heartbeat on that ultrasound. By the end of 12 weeks we have a baby that looks like a baby with arms, legs, face, all internal organs and the beginnings of a functioning neural system! Baby’s start to experiment with opening and closing their mouths and fists. So a 15- weeker when aborted will look like a baby. So when is a baby a baby? Is it at conception when those cells are destined to become a human and nothing else? Is it when there’s a heartbeat? Is it when it “looks” like a baby? Is it when it has a neural system and makes purposeful movements? Well that’s for you to decide. But it is an important consideration if you’re “pro-choice”. What’s the last point at which it’s ok or is there never a point? After 15 weeks we’re hurtling straight along to rapid growth of all organs and the body and limbs and then big movements that you will start to feel as early as 17-18 weeks of pregnancy. I’m not sure anyone is ok with aborting at this point but keep in mind that this is just the point at which you feel the movements, the baby was making movements all along.
The Mother’s Life
Of course the major other consideration is the life of the Mother. So from a medical standpoint, things like ectopic pregnancies (the baby is not in the womb but most times in the fallopian tube) are emergencies. A baby cannot develop in the tube, the tube will burst and the mother will bleed and both mother and baby will likely perish. Other considerations however are is the mother ready to deal with a baby that is perhaps viable but has complications. When an anomaly scan is done at around 20 weeks these can be found but there are degrees of anomalies. Barring medically proven non-viable anomalies, the others are subjective. Which parent knows ahead of time how much of an anomaly they would be able to deal with? Bans on abortion would not allow for these foetuses to be aborted. Are proper programs in place to support these special needs children? Will they grow in a loving and stable home? I know a few mothers of special needs children who would never give up their child but I’m pretty sure there are many others who don’t feel the same. Should we get to choose to have a “perfect” child? Or should we roll with the punches and have support systems in place on a national level? Your choice, but not one that should be made lightly. Similar questions of love and stability can be asked for babies that are born from assaults of various types. The psychological burden of this on all of the parties involved is immense. Considerations for those who are “Pro-life”.
The Father’s Life
Well no one ever considers the Dads. I will, because without my amazing husband, father and brother I wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s all about the woman’s body and life and the fact that she has to carry the baby and have major life changes and body changes and danger to health really, because pregnancy is no easy feat, but don’t forget that that baby in there is just as much the father’s baby as it is the mother’s baby. So it’s really holding men hostage for not having a uterus when these decisions are made without discussion with the father. Men matter too. This pervasive myth that good men don’t exist or good father’s don’t exist needs to end. So when you’re choosing just remember you aren’t choosing only for you and your body but also choosing to take that could-be father’s child away. Consideration should be given and conversations should be had.
I guess fundamentally Pro-Life says all life is precious and comes from God and Pro-Choice says it’s about women’s rights. But these are all really broad statements and when we get into the fine print there’s more to think about. Regardless of whether you stick to one side or not, the extra thought should be done. I’m not sure that all Pro-Lifers have considered a 15 year old raising the child she conceived for her perpetrator father and the ramifications of such. Also not sure that all Pro-Choicers have considered that 15 weeks (which is the limit that some laws set) looks like a baby, has all working organs, complete with purposeful exploratory hand and feet movements.
Just some considerations!