Whose Choice?


All the drama around Sarah Palin and her brood led to a discussion about Choice. A buddy asked me where I stood on abortion. Readily I responded women have the right to choose. However I paused, then admitted I am not comfortable with late term abortions.


It is commonly held that a fetus is viable sometime during the last trimester, when it might be capable of surviving outside the uterus. At that point, it is a human being to me. After all, I was born two months premature.

But viability is open to debate. As an article in Slate reminds us “viability” has been a focus of the abortion debate for some time now. When is a fetus viable?

Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 case legalizing abortion, made fetal viability an important legal concept. The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot put the interests of a fetus ahead of the interests of the pregnant woman until the fetus is “viable.” The court defined viable to mean capable of prolonged life outside the mother’s womb …

Because the point of viability varies, the court ruled, it could only be determined case by case and by the woman’s own doctor…

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued in a 1983 decision that Roe was on a “collision course with itself.” She said that improvements in technology would continually push the point of fetal viability closer to the beginning of the pregnancy, allowing states greater opportunity to regulate the right to an abortion

Some medical ethicists and constitutional scholars say that the Supreme Court was wrong to create the pre-viability/post-viability distinction in the first place. Why, they ask, does the fact that a fetus can survive outside the womb with the help of vast medical technology change either of the interests at war in the abortion debate: the fetus’s own claim to “human-ness” and a woman’s right to control her body? Even if viability is an important moral line, is it drawn in the right place?

When does life begin? When a sperm penetrates an egg? During the first trimester? The second?

My friend, allowing for the sake of argument my opinion that life begins at viability, asked what about the case in which the mother’s life in is danger? Case by case was my easy answer.

But who gets to play Solomon? Who decides to cut a baby in half or in this case favor one person’s life over another? The mother? Male religious leaders? Politicians and judges?

I can still remember the pain and anguish of a young woman very dear to me, who confided that she had an abortion. She was alone in a big city and could not tell her staunch Roman Catholic family about the choice she felt was her only option. She now has another child but continues to mourn the one she lost.

The debate over abortion is fraught with emotion, understandably so. However, at issue is a woman’s right to her own body – not her father’s, not her brother’s, not her pastor’s, not society’s right to her body. This is not simply about abortion. It is also about female genital mutilation and honor killings and the treatment of human beings as chattel.

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