Viability not accurate portrayal of basic intrinsic human value

Earlier this year, Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was involved in controversy after a photo of him wearing blackface in a 1984 medical school yearbook became widespread. Many called for his resignation, others suggested impeachment. Just a few days prior, however, he spoke on a radio show about Virginia House Bill 2491, which would remove restrictions on late-term abortions. He stated: “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” These two controversies occurred in the same week, but only one sparked the flames of impeachment and resignation.

The perceived acceptability of late-term abortion is entirely contingent on the point during the pregnancy at which it is no longer moral to perform — the line between harmless procedure and termination of life. But where precisely does that line fall?

A functional heart seems to be a reasonable place to start — after all, the end of heart function is typically what signals the end of a life; by logical extension, so heart function ought to signal the beginning as well. At only five weeks along, a fetus has an independently beating heart. At six weeks, it has measurable brain activity, and at seven, functional nerve endings. Keep in mind that this falls within the euphemistic “clump of cells” phase that many categorize as fair game for abortion. By these standards, an adult might as well be “just a clump of cells.” Late-term abortion (which falls after 20 weeks of pregnancy) is far outside of these standards.

But what about the first breath, at birth, when an infant is finally separate from its mother and viable outside the womb? This is the most widespread standard in American politics, seeing as the fetus can be aborted at any time in the pregnancy. This standard is convenient but has no scientific backbone. One’s ability to freely breathe does not determine their personhood. If the ability to survive outside of the womb is what determined moral value, then people wouldn’t begin to have moral value until their adolescent years, when they gain the ability to fend for themselves. A newborn baby is technically “viable,” but I’ve known no infants that have been able to provide for themselves on their own. Viability is simply not an accurate measurement of a person’s intrinsic human value.

Proponents of late-term abortion typically assert that the procedure is reserved exclusively for patients who discover a fetal abnormality late in their pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health organization that is openly pro-choice, found in a study that “a fetal problem diagnosed late in pregnancy” only accounts for 2% of late-term abortions. The most common reasons for a late-term abortion were misjudgment of gestational progress, and difficulty making arrangements for an earlier abortion, which accounted for 71% and 48%, respectively. A different study found the termination rate of fetuses detected to have Down syndrome to be 75%. 

To answer our question: The only morally consistent place to draw the line is at conception, where a fetus has separate DNA from its mother and the ability to grow into a fully fledged human being. Especially in the late term, a fetus is a human being. No amount of inconvenience or predicted hardships can change that fact. The sanctity of life must have the utmost protection under the law.

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