Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Defense of Missouri's Proposed Abortion Restrictions

Considering all the noise about Missouri's attempt to outlaw abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, I figured it is worth taking the opportunity to look at more closely at how the facts of fetal development argue for more restrictive abortion limits in the interest in protecting unborn human persons.

First, what is that thing inside the womb that it impacted by abortion? Is it a clump of cells or a baby? I will let pro-choice advocates give their explanation of what an abortion does:
  • ''In 1970, an editorial in California Medicine noted: “Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra-or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices.” 
  • Former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone would question these basic scientific facts. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge,” he wrote in his book Life in the Making. (A. Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.)
  • A Planned Parenthood brochure in 1963 noted, “Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.  It is dangerous to your life and health.”
  • Faye Wattleton, the longest reigning president Planned Parenthood, told Ms. Magazine: “I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don’t know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus.”
  • Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL, in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine in 1974: “There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy…”
Note that the issue is not whether or not abortion ends a developing human life. The question is about who gets to make the call about what happens to that growing human life, and why. The Supreme Court has weighed in on that very issue. According to
"Viability... is an important mark in the abortion debate. In Roe v. Wade and the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court argued that states do have an interest in protecting an unborn baby’s life once they are viable. Viability at the time was considered to be about 24-26  weeks [22-24 is more commonly cited now]..."  
Paul Barnes, special assistant to the attorney general of Missouri, argues that Missouri's stance is in line with the Supreme Court standard:
"The viability line is constantly moving. When viability is the issue, then the state’s interest trumps the woman’s interest. It’s always moving in favor of the state’s authority, it’s never moving the other direction. The more developed the fetus is, the state’s interest is stronger in protecting unborn life.”
Since I don't think legal necessarily equals moral, I believe there is an important question worth asking: is viability the right line to draw when it comes to the protection of unborn human life? Perhaps a better phrasing: Must human beings be viable in order to be human persons and thus deserving of the moral status that would rightly be accorded to them?

First, there is good reason to think the 'viability' line is a philosophically tenuous position:
Here is the Court's entire argument in Roe v. Wade for using the viability criterion: 'With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the "compelling" point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb.' 
That's seriously the entire argument... It is, of course, circular reasoning. Viability is important, the Court says, because that's when a child can live outside the womb (the definition of viability). Viability is important, that is, because it is viability.

"[T]he Court's defense seems to mistake a definition for a syllogism," noted the eminent Yale law professor John Hart Ely (who personally supported legalized abortion). Indeed, "scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds have recognized," writes University of Georgia law professor Randy Beck, that "Roe literally provided no argument in favor of treating viability as the controlling line, much less an argument grounded in constitutional principles..."

If we do take this to be an "argument," it is a fallacious one, as Francis J. Beckwith writes:
 'For the Court to make its argument valid, it would have to add to its factual premise [the fact of fetal non-viability] the normative premise: whenever a human being cannot live on its own because it uniquely depends on another human being for its physical existence, it is permissible for the second human being to kill the first to rid the second of the burden.'
The Court assumed that premise in both Roe and Casey. The Court has never argued for it.
So the first point is that the Supreme Court is not infallible, and may, in fact, build their rulings on a discouraging lack of reason at times.

Second, there is good reason to think it is a morally problematic position given the nature of the unborn. Perhaps the following walk through the weeks of fetal development during pregnancy will make this second point more clear. I encourage you to watch the videos as you read (they are not 'gotcha' videos about abortion).

[NOTE: The majority of my text that follows is from "Fetal Development Week By Week" ( and "Fetal Development Week By Week" ( with some light editing on my part unless otherwise noted.]

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Fertilization  - The sperm penetrating the egg begins a series of increasingly complicated processes that leads to a new human life. Over the next several days, the fertilized egg will start dividing into multiple cells as it travels down the fallopian tube, and enters your uterus.
"Amazingly, your child's sex and all of her inherited genetic characteristics -- such as eye color, hair color, skin, and body type -- have been set since the moment of conception. Your developing baby, now called a zygote, has 46 chromosomes -- 23 from you and 23 from your partner. These chromosomes help determine your baby's sex and traits such as eye and hair color, and, to some extent, personality and intelligence." ("Your Developing Baby, Week By Week."
Day 7 - Implantation Now nestled in the lining of your uterus is a microscopic ball of hundreds of rapidly multiplying cells (blastocyst) that is the beginning of the development of the baby.

Day 14 -  The primitive streak forms. International policy limits embryo research to the first two weeks of development for this reason. 

4 weeks - Your ball of cells is now an embryo. As Peter Singer noted in Practical Ethics:
"It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp.85-86.)
Cells are forming into layers. In the top layer,  the neural tube begins to form. This is where your baby’s brain, backbone, spinal cord and nerves will develop. The middle layer is where the skeleton and muscles grow, and where the heart and circulatory system will form. The third layer houses the beginnings of the lungs, the intestines and the urinary system. Blood cells are taking shape, and circulation will begin by the end of the first month. ("Fetal Development: Stages of Growth."

5 weeks - The embryo's cells multiply and start to take on specific functions in what is called differentiation. The circulatory system is beginning to form. The neural tube has now formed. Your baby’s heart is the first organ to develop and function. Although it only has one chamber at the moment, it’s already beating at the rate of about 100 beats a minute. 

6 weeks - Your baby's nose, mouth and ears are starting to take shape, and the intestines and brain are beginning to develop. Her heart is beginning to separate into four chambers and is now beating about 150 times a minute. Your baby’s hollow neural tube closes to form a cavity, which will develop into her ventricular system, which will produce fluid to protect your baby’s brain and spinal cord. "Brain waves can now be recorded." ("Your Developing Baby, Week By Week."

7 weeks - Cartilage is forming in all your baby’s limbs, and nerves are spreading through his legs. His arms are lengthening, and his limbs are becoming more distinct. His teeth and palate are forming and his ears are developing on either side of his head. His eyes are still in the early stage of development, but already translucent folds are forming tiny eyelids. 

8 weeks - Your baby has started moving around.  Nerve cells are forming primitive neural pathways at the rate of 100,000 cells per minute. Breathing tubes now extend from his throat to his developing lungs. The brain shows rudimentary recorded activity; the part of the brain responsible for her sense of smell is also taking shape. Her arms are long enough for her hands to meet over her chest.

9 weeks - Your baby's basic physiology is in place (she even has tiny earlobes), but there's much more to come. This week marks his move into the fetal stage of development, which lasts until he’s born. From now until then, he’ll grow and develop, until he’s ready for life outside the womb.

"By the end of the second month of pregnancy, the neural tube (brain, spinal cord and other neural tissue of the central nervous system) is well formed. The digestive tract and sensory organs begin to develop." ("Fetal Development: Stages of Growth." 
At this point, the unborn baby already responds to touch. 

10 weeks - Limbs can bend and fine details like nails are starting to form. Your baby has a fully developed heart, which is now beating about three times faster than yours. Her tiny fingers have nails, and her arms and legs can rotate at the shoulder and hip joints. 250,000 neurons are forming in the baby's brain every minute. 

11 weeks - Your baby is almost fully formed. She's kicking, stretching and even hiccupping as her diaphragm develops. Her veins and arteries are developing, and they are visible under her thin layer of skin.


Window On The Womb: 8-11 Weeks

12 weeks - This week your baby's reflexes kick in: His fingers will soon begin to open and close, toes will curl, and his mouth will make sucking movements. Now that your baby's reflexes are becoming more honed, he will wriggle a little if you gently prod your belly.

13 weeks - Your baby's fingers now have fingerprints, and her veins and organs are clearly visible through her skin. If your baby's a boy, his testicles have now formed, and his penis is growing. If you're having a girl, her ovaries have finished developing and contain about two million eggs. This week, the part of his brain responsible for problem-solving and memory starts to form. By the end of the third month, your baby is fully formed. All the organs and extremities are present and will continue to mature in order to become functional. The circulatory and urinary systems are working and the liver produces bile. ("Fetal Development: Stages of Growth." 

14 weeks - Your baby's brain impulses have begun to fire and he's using his facial muscles and making expressions.  Her movements are coordinated (even sucking her thumb). You may have been lucky enough to see her kick her legs or even wave during your ultrasound. By this time the liver is making red blood cells. 

Researchers at the University of Turin and the University of Panama in Italy used ultra soundography to demonstrate that social interaction exists between twins in the womb as early as the 14th week of gestation.

15 weeks - Your baby can sense light. She is forming taste buds. By the end of this week, she can probably hear your heart beating and your tummy gurgling. She may even hear the muffled sound of your voice.

 "Quickening" is usually felt by this point. 

15 Week Ultrasound


This is where Missouri proposed stopping abortion. 

The heart has been beating a long time, and rudimentary brain waves are present. The neural tube (brain, spinal cord and other neural tissue of the central nervous system) is well formed and the digestive tract is present. The baby responds to touch. 250,000 neurons are forming in the baby's brain every minute. 

There are fingerprints, and ovaries with 2,000,000 eggs. Problem-solving and memory is forming in the brain. All the organs and extremities are present and will continue to mature. The circulatory and urinary systems are working and the liver produces bile. He sucks his thumb. She can hear her mother's heartbeat and the muffled sound of her voice.


16 weeks - The patterning on your baby's scalp has begun, though the hair isn't visible yet. His legs are more developed. His head is more upright, and his ears are close to their final position.

17 weeks - Your baby can move her joints, and her cartilage skeleton is now hardening to bone. The umbilical cord is growing stronger and thicker. If you play music, she may move around


18 weeks - Your baby is flexing his arms and legs, and you may be able to feel those movements. Internally, a protective coating is forming around his nerves. If you're having a girl, your baby's vagina, womb (uterus) and fallopian tubes are in place. If you're having a boy, his penis will be distinct and his testicles will have started to descend from his pelvis to his scrotum.

It has also been shown that fetuses feel pain from week 18. This has given rise to the practice of using fetal anesthesia for surgery or invasive diagnostic procedures in utero.

19 weeks - Your baby's senses – smell, vision, touch, taste and hearing – are developing. If you talk, sing or read out loud to her, she may be able to hear you fairly clearly. 

20 weeks - Your baby can swallow now, and his digestive system is producing meconium, the dark, sticky goo that he'll pass in his first poop.

 #everybodypoops  The thalamus, the relay center of the brain that helps to connect the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, is complete. 

 Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks. According to Wisconsin Right To Life: 
"With the advent of sonograms and live-action ultrasound images, neonatologists and nurses are able to see unborn babies at 20 weeks post-fertilization or younger react physically to outside stimuli such as sound, light and touch. This sense of touch is so acute that even a single human hair drawn across an unborn child’s palm can cause the baby to make a fist.Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on tiny unborn children have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions."

21 weeks - Your baby's movements have gone to full-on kicks and jabs against the walls of your womb. You may start to notice patterns as you become more familiar with her activity.

NOTE: a baby born at 21 weeks 4 days survived in San Antonio in 2017. Over time, technology has gotten better at helping premature babies survive. Most hospitals will not do abortions past 22 weeks.  After all, a baby's ability to survive at 22 weeks is not new information. Planned Parenthood has no problem doing them up to 24 weeks (according to Guttmacher), the point at which 65% of babies can survive. 
22 weeks - Your baby now looks a lot like he will as a newborn.

23 weeks - After birth, your baby may recognize some noises outside the womb that she's hearing inside now. The bone marrow is starting to make blood cells. Until now, this role has been carried out by her liver and spleen.  


"Born 4 Months Early, This Tiny Survivor Beats the Odds"

National Geographic 

24 weeks - Your baby is now considered “viable”. This means that if she were to be born this week, her lungs are developed enough so that she has a good chance of survival with extra care in a neonatal unit. "Because the balance-controlling inner ear has developed, your baby can finally tell if she's upside down or right side up." ("Your Developing Baby, Week By Week."

Starting about now, sonograms taken while parents yell at each other show the baby’s entire body flinching in agitation. They also often cover their ears.

25 weeks - 

 Your baby is now inhaling and exhaling amniotic fluid, which helps develop his lungs. Your baby's tastebuds are now fully developed, and his nostrils are beginning to open. Toothbuds that will eventually become adult incisor and canine teeth appear.

While there have been bursts of brain activity up to this point, fetal brain activity begins to exhibit regular wave patterns now.

27 weeks - Your baby sleeps and wakes on a regular schedule. While your baby sleeps, she’s likely to start experiencing periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the phase of sleep in which we dream.

28 weeks - Your baby's eyes can sense light filtering in from the outside. She can blink, and her eyelashes have grown in.

29 weeks - Your baby's muscles and lungs are busy getting ready to function in the outside world, and his head is growing to make room for his developing brain.

32 weeks - Your baby's fingernails and toenails are now fully formed. If she gets an itch, she may gently scratch herself. 

34 weeks -  Your baby already knows your voice, but it may now be possible for her to recognise lullabies and songs too. This is because the part of her ear that sends messages to her brain (cochlea) is becoming more mature.

35 weeks - Your baby's kidneys are fully developed, and his liver can process some waste products.


9 Months In The Womb: A Remarkable Look At Fetal Development Through Ultrasound By

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If you think personhood is binary like a light switch (either on or off, present or not present), you will likely establish personhood at fertilization or implantation, and so believe that the baby's right to life is fully present. But even if you think personhood is more gradual, like a dimmer switch (it emerges over time), why have we stopped asking how soon the light is bright enough? Shouldn't we at least be erring on the side of caution? I'm a binary guy myself - if you are a human, you are a person, and your life as a human begins at fertilization -  but if I were partial to the dimmer switch, I think I would want to be maximally sure that I was protecting human persons as soon as possible.

Is the right to abortion so sacrosanct that we can't even consider the growing and compelling case that the Supreme Court got it wrong on this issue legally, that we might not be thinking clearly philosophically, and that we have been perpetuating a grave injustice morally?

Surely we can continue to honestly reevaluate - on a medical, philosophical and moral  level - the nature of the unborn and the rights and protections they deserve.


Why I Am Pro-Life
Rejecting Reality: How Planned Parenthood And Its Defenders Hide The Truth
A Response To “Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, You F****** Idiots.”
NGOs, Abortion, and Federal Money: The Truth About The Mexico City Policy
Is It Statistically Safer To Have An Abortion Rather Than Give Birth?
Planned Parenthood And The Lives That Don't Matter
Are Pro-Lifers Hypocrites?
The 'Ick Factor' And The Planned Parenthood Videos
Hitting Us At Our Weakest
Beyonce's Inadvertent Pro-Life Baby Bump

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