Warning: I talk about abortion, morals, and loss here, so if you think you can’t handle that, for whatever reason (whether it is triggering to your own loss; you feel it might be judgemental of choice – and it will be, because this is an opinion column – or simply because you don’t want to read about abortion) that’s fine; don’t click the read more as I have put this behind a blog cut. If you do, however, you don’t get to be offended about my opinions.
This is, however, from the perspective of a woman who has lost two babies of her own, through stillbirth and SIDs. This is not a religious opinion either, but a purely factually scientific one which is admittedly against abortion.
A common screech I encounter from pro-abortion supporters is that my support for anti-abortion is religious in nature.
This is a vast assumption on their part.
First, I am not against medically necessary abortion; specifically the kind where every other option has been exhausted, and a decision must be made to save the life of the mother. In most of the cases where medically necessary abortion happens, the problems are detected later; and I haven’t heard of ectopic pregnancies that develop outside the womb to survivability. Further, I see medically necessary abortion as a painful tragedy and sympathise with the parents for their loss.
I am specifically against abortion done for convenience, or non medically necessary abortions – the ‘Oh no, I got pregnant, this will get in the way of my plans for life’ type; gender selective abortion of any type, racial abortion, abortion where the woman is pressured or coerced by society/government to go for abortion. I will not deal with the psychological, health and societal reaction or fallout about this in this particular article as it falls outside the specific issue I wish to address.
The victims of rape and incest I reserve, personally, a grey area for. The option I believe, should be available to them without the condemnation of society, as it is a tragedy compounding another trauma. It is a decision that the victim must make herself, and that she be treated gently, with kindness and consideration, and that she be cared for before and after. Whatever decision she makes, I feel support should be given to her as she needs, to help her heal. That said, contrary to the common belief, not all rape victims choose to abort if they end up pregnant. I’m sure a cursory Internet search will result in plenty of stories of both decisions. This is also outside the scope of my article, so I must leave it there for now.
Secondly, my pro-life stance is purely scientific and medical in rationale, not religious in origin. This is the main focus of my post. It is illogical and irrational to declare that someone who is anti-abortion is doing so purely out of emotion, or religious morals. In fact, I may have greater trust in humanity’s technological progress and capability than those who would decry my pro-life stance as ‘unscientific and un-medical.’
To understand my specific reasons for this, I begin with the disclosure that I was born premature; at 7 months (because of severe pre-eclampsia), in the 1980s, at a hospital that did not enjoy a neonatal unit. An incubator had to be brought in from a different hospital, and a chance meeting my mother had with one of the nurses who cared for me about 15 years later on revealed that my birth and subsequent care in the hospital resulted in the establishment of a neonatal ward there after I had gone home to my family. My youngest brother was born prematurely in East Berlin (Yes, before the wall fell) and it was by purest chance that he was saved by his doctor – his umbilical cord had been in the process of strangling him and it was an offhand remark about feeling/tasting something bilious by my mother to the doctor, who was keen to practice his conversational English with a native English speaker that precipitated such a quick rush to the operating room that my mother felt the slice of the knife.
Lastly my youngest son was born premature as well, because of emergency caesarean. So it is safe to say I have personal knowledge and experience in pre-term births.
Now, for as long as I remember, I’ve been reading voraciously, and like many other children of that era I liked reading about nature, ancient history (the basics), the earth, the solar system and so on. My parents were happy to encourage this and one of my childhood books was a detailed pop up book about, well, human gestation. So I got from there a basic primer in not just human biology and reproduction, but human evolution (from the stages of development of the embryo) and genetics (which explained why children get Mom’s brown hair or Dad’s freckles, for example)- I think I got that particular book around the time my Mom was pregnant with the youngest brother. Before that though, I loved reading encyclopaedias, so I knew the basics of where babies come from.
Because of this, from a very young age I knew that a fertilized human egg cell that is not tampered with nor somehow mutated or magically chimera-ized would not become anything but a human baby. It does not become a dolphin, or a dog, and absent unfortunate circumstances such as ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or stillbirth or uterine accidents such as umbilical cord strangulation, a fertilised egg cell will develop into a foetus with recognisable human features. I remember being fascinated with the unimaginable scientific wonder of an egg that is no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence growing into a person. (I went a bit further than that and looked up how Caesareans were done ‘just in case I needed the information.’ I didn’t, thankfully, but I had a rather active imagination even back then.) (Edited to add: Quotations from medical and scientific texts in fact declare that the life cycle of mammals; including humans, begins at fertilisation.)
Thus, the usual arguments of ‘it’s not a baby, it’s just a bunch of cells’ have never held water with me because of my awareness of the human gestational cycle. By the time most women even discover they’re pregnant, the embryo as already implanted, the heart and blood vessels are developing and have begun to pump, the brain is in the process of developing as well. The ‘just a bunch of cells’ stage is before implantation – implantation is the thresh-hold between ‘cells’ and ’embryo.’ By the eighth week, the embryo already is making small movements. Two weeks later, the embryo is no longer an embryo but a foetus, and is called that from that point onward til birth. It has recognisable hands and feet, ears and nose and the jaw is formed, and the foetus is beginning to develop towards being either male or female. At 12 weeks of pregnancy, the face is visibly baby-like.
You are 12 weeks pregnant. (fetal age 10 weeks)
The fetus is now about 2.5 inches (6cm) length and weighs about 0.7 ounce (20 g).
The feet are almost half an inch (1cm) long.
The fetus starts moving spontaneously.
The face is beginning to look like a baby’s face.
The pancreas is functioning and producing insulin.
Fingernails and toenails appear.
The baby can suck his thumb, and get hiccups.
From this week you may well be able to hear the baby’s heart beat through a doppler monitor on your tummy. You will notice that the rate is up to 160 a minute, double that of a normal adult.
Your baby now has a chin and a nose and a facial profile. Vocal chords are complete, and the baby can and does sometimes cry silently. The brain is fully formed, and the baby can also feel pain. The fetus may even suck his thumb.
That puts lie to ‘a bunch of cells that can’t feel pain.’
So it should not surprise anyone that I am quite sickened at the thought that abortion is done up to less than the 24th week of pregnancy. I looked up the procedure, and tearing off the limbs, slicing up the torso and crushing the skull was made worse by the knowledge that this is done with the foetus very much alive; and drugs or chemicals to try kill him or her often haven’t quite worked yet. It is quite an inhuman procedure, and it has been made ‘palatable’ by dehumanising the foetus with the frankly unscientific lies that the foetus ‘doesn’t feel’, is ‘just a bunch of cells’ and ‘is not able to survive at this point of gestation.’
Medical progress is a truly wondrous thing. Before, babies born too early would almost certainly die; but it might surprise most that the first attempts to try keep them alive happened in the 1870s in Paris, after obstetrician Dr. Stéphane Tarnier decided to try using an incubator on human babies to keep them warm and save them from hypothermia after seeing an incubator warming baby chickens. I strongly urge you to read the article I linked. His insistence, and Dr. Couney’s advocacy and medical exhibit – a proof of life demonstration and charitable care – is some truly breath-taking medical history.
Couney never charged parents for the care he provided, which also included rotating shifts of doctors and nurses looking after the babies. According to historian Jeffrey Baker, Couney’s exhibits “offered a standard of technological care not matched in any hospital of the time.”
In a wonderful interview recorded by Storycorps and aired on NPR, a former incubator baby from one of Couney’s exhibits described how fragile she was at birth: “My father said I was so tiny, he could hold me in his hand,” said 95 year-old Lucille Horn, who was born prematurely in 1920 at the shockingly low birth weight of under two pounds. Baby Lucille was given no chance to live by her doctor.
“I couldn’t live on my own, I was too weak to survive … You just died because you didn’t belong in the world.” Horn said. But Horn’s father, who had seen one of Couney’s exhibits on his honeymoon, bundled tiny Lucille up and took her out of the hospital. “I’m taking her to the incubator in Coney Island. The doctor said there’s not a chance in hell that she’ll live, but he said, ‘But she’s alive now,’ and he hailed a cab and took me to Dr. Couney’s exhibit, and that’s where I stayed for about six months.”
Because of those men, babies who would’ve otherwise died didn’t, and their parents were given hope that their tiny baby would live. Medical progress, resulting in life that would otherwise been lost, now taken for granted today. As technology advanced, the earlier and earlier preterm babies could survive, until a baby born at 23-24 weeks could survive now. That ’24 week line was determined by available technology.
According to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics in 2011, 80 per cent of babies born extremely prematurely survived. ‘We found that babies born at 27, 28, 29 weeks, which had really high mortality rates when I was doing the first study, are now doing well and living normal lives,’ Prof Neil Marlow, a consultant neonatologist at University College London Hospital and one of the authors of the EPICure studies, says.
Not only are more premature babies surviving, but more are being born. Along with a steady rise in birth rates, there are increasing numbers of older mothers and those using fertility treatments – two groups of women who are more likely to have premature babies. Now, according to data from 2011, those born alive at 27 weeks have an 87 per cent chance of surviving, at 28 weeks it is 92 per cent and at 29 weeks, 95 per cent. It means that doctors are working on tinier babies, typically with more complications, than ever before.
‘The smallest baby I ever treated was called Jessica and she weighed 460g [1lb] at birth,’ Dr Smith says. ‘This baby was born and, actually, she had good lung function, probably because of the stress of the birth – stress produces steroids that have a lung-maturing effect on a baby. But the day after the birth her bowel had perforated; that’s quite a common problem with premature babies. She went into surgery and the surgeons took out a big lump of colon that had infarcted [the tissue had died]. But she came through and did well – I’ve got a photograph of a very happy-looking toddler.’
Those are the facts. And the fact is, the viability line can and will be pushed further and further back. Studies have found that 1 in 4 babies born at 22 weeks can now survive if given active treatment.
And therein lies the key issue about the ‘viability’ argument that pro-abortionists try to use. They cling to the ‘viability’ date as if, right before that calendar day change, the foetus was not human, just inanimate ‘cells’, the ‘nonhuman thing’ cannot survive, and should not be seen as human so that the murder of an otherwise healthy, vulnerable and innocent human being is socially palatable and not to be condemned. Yes, there are still discussions and debates, but the simple reality is this:
‘Viability’ is determined by the technology available to us, thus to arbitrarily declare that X gestation date = ‘nonhuman, not worth saving, acceptably abort-able’ is an unscientific and irrational position to hold, as well as ethically inconsistent. Premature babies that would have died just over a hundred years ago now regularly survive. Babies thought for the last twenty years to be ‘low survivability rate’ at 22 weeks are now possible of being saved.
What new medical technologies and advancements could happen in yet another twenty might push back the viability date solidly at 22 weeks – or even lower. We might even see the development of artificial ‘raising cradles’ where an infant born pre-term could be placed in a pod that mimics the womb environment, so we might see the aided viability of even younger and younger foetuses that would prevent their having developmental impairments, until perhaps some day, if medical science, human biochemical understanding and bio-tech, and mechanical technology progress to that point where fully artificial wombs could be what carries future generations to term. Granted, this speculative future I am describing is pure conjecture at this point, but consider this other simple truth and reality:
To the doctors Tarnier and Couney, the ability we currently have to keep 23 week old babies alive makes our current technology positively miraculous to them if they could see it now.
To take the position of ‘that’s crap and will never happen, you’re a delusional dreamer’ reveals a position that is more profoundly unscientific, and anti-medical, as well as illogical, than ‘religious’ reasons for being anti-abortion.