The lines blur on abortion

As fetuses become viable earlier and earlier, we need to rethink our stands on abortion

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I am pro-choice. I am not pro-murder. What Kermit Gosnell is accused of doing at his abortion clinic in Philadelphia is committing murder. Prosecutors claim that seven babies were killed after botched abortions, that their throats were "snipped" with scissors after they were born alive. Dr. Gosnell is also accused of killing a woman who was having an abortion by overdrugging her.

I can't imagine anyone who is pro-choice not being horrified by this story.

Anti-abortion activists are incensed by the details of the case and what they claim is the lack of attention by a liberal media that didn't want to cover it because it makes all abortions look bad.

All abortions are bad. They are sad events which usually leave mothers emotionally conflicted at best. I don't know anyone who is pro-abortion. But being pro-choice is something different. It means that a woman should be allowed to do with her own body what she chooses.

However, the space between conception and viability of the fetus is shrinking, and it is something we need to review every few years.

When Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court, the right to abortion was determined by trimesters. But what we know about the fetus during those trimesters has changed considerably with the advance of technology, particularly the use of ultrasound. Today, in the first trimester one can hear the fetus's heart beating and see formed hands and feet. This obviously makes it a different discussion.

The discussion now centers upon technology, not religion, which is how most of those opposed to abortion come to their position. No law should be made that takes into consideration the religious beliefs of a few. Rather, the law should account for the moral beliefs of those of all faiths, and no faith.

Still, the question looms: At what point is it no longer morally OK to perform an abortion? This is where it gets murky. I consider third-trimester abortion close to infanticide. A 6-month-old fetus can be born and become a healthy, normal human being.

The only caveat for me is whether a fetus is so severely disabled or deformed that it would have no quality of life, condemning the parents to lives of unbearable pain and suffering. These situations are extremely rare and should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Abortions during the second trimester are more troublesome to me. Second-trimester babies born prematurely more often than not have serious abnormalities or developmental problems and will never live normal lives. Years ago, a friend of mine worked in a hospital where in one ward women were terminating second-trimester pregnancies and in an adjoining ward women were trying to save their second-trimester pregnancies. A nurse who worked in both wards told her that viability was changing every three or four years.

The lines are getting blurrier and blurrier.

I have friends who have had abortions. One was late in the second trimester when she learned that the fetus was horribly deformed. She was traumatized and never had another child. None of the others came away emotionally unscathed, either. But every one would say later that she did not regret her choice.

The problem is the draconian demands of the anti-abortion movement, whose members insist that life begins at conception. Women who accidentally become pregnant and want to terminate, particularly unmarried girls who are not prepared to be good parents, should be allowed to make that choice for themselves, certainly during the first trimester of their pregnancy.

But it's important to contemplate, too, that there will come a day when a very young fetus can be transferred from the mother's body into another woman or an incubator and brought to term. There will come a day when a fetus of 15 weeks can be saved. What will these issues do to our laws? All of these are questions to ponder and should make those who are pro-choice and anti-abortion work together to find answers.

Hopefully, one day there will be tests that will be able to tell prospective parents everything they need to know about a fetus within the first few weeks of pregnancy so they can make their choices in good conscience.

Even more, it would be wonderful if we could find a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies altogether. Birth control is clearly the answer, but there are those of certain religions who want to impose their views against contraception upon others.

We have got to find a way to deal with this evolving moral crisis, and sooner rather than later. Otherwise, as technology advances and the public becomes more and more uneasy about abortions, we could end up where we started: with women having back-alley abortions in filthy and unsanitary clinics like the one being described in the trial of Kermit Gosnell.

opinion_commentary

Sally Quinn writes for The Washington Post.


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