Many Americans, including a large number of my fellow Christians, want to prevent abortions from occurring, usually from a "pro-life" standpoint: the idea that every child deserves the right to be born. Some argue that abortion "provides a way of side-stepping other real issues that should be addressed," such as rape, poverty, men's refusal to use contraceptive measures, and abusive relationships; that lead to unwanted pregnancies.
Though I agree with these arguments, I stand on the pro-choice side of this debate for multiple reasons. Here are a few of those reasons, most of which are rarely discussed in abortion debates -- but should be.
Fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until 24 weeks.
According to neurologists, the process by which fetuses feel pain does not occur until about 23-24 weeks into the pregnancy. Until that point, the fetus does not have neurons extending from the spinal cord into the brain, and thus are unable to experience pain. And it's not until about 30 weeks that the fetus exhibits brain activity suggesting consciousness.
Though these time frames may vary, there is no evidence to suggest that those pathways are complete around or before the 20th week of pregnancy. Roe v. Wade emphasized the idea that abortions should be legal until the point of "fetal viability," or the point at which the fetus may be able to survive outside the womb -- currently accepted to be around 22 to 26 weeks. Many people on both sides of the debate accept this to be the point at which abortions should be banned except in extenuating cases -- but each side has varying definitions of when a fetus's "life" truly begins.
Late-term abortions are incredibly rare -- and only occur in dire circumstances.
Despite President Trump's claims that pro-choice abortion laws such as New York's allow a fetus to be aborted "minutes before birth" or even after the baby is born, this is not the case. In fact, late-term abortions (those that occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy) are incredibly rare, making up only about 1.3% of abortions per year. And these abortions only occur "in cases of serious fetal anomalies incompatible with life": i.e., in cases where the life of the mother, the fetus, or both is at risk should the baby be carried to term.
For example, Virginia's proposed abortion bill required that late-term abortions require proof that "continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death" or "impair the mental or physical health" of the mother. Despite Trump's claims, there are no cases of doctors delivering babies and then killing them.
Additionally, only 16% of all doctors will perform abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, virtually all of which occur because of the presence of "very severe" birth defects. Two examples of mothers who had late-term abortions include Kate Carson, whose fetus was afflicted with diseases that would render her unable to walk, talk, swallow, or sleep comfortably -- if she even survived birth; and Lindsey Paradiso, whose fetus developed a particularly invasive form of cancer that made her chances of living to birth incredibly slim. Both women were pregnant by choice but had to abort their children because of health conditions that would have led to death before or moments after birth.
It is worth noting that though some mothers do have late-term abortions whose fetuses are not affected by dire conditions, they often had decided much earlier in the pregnancy to have an abortion, but "had challenges finding a provider, getting necessary approvals from doctors in states that require them, or had financial constraints," and many had to travel to different states to obtain an abortion.
The procedure itself often costs over $10,000, and with travel costs, home care, and other expenses, the price soon becomes overwhelmingly high. Thus, the issue is not that these mothers "changed their mind" late into the pregnancy, but rather that there were just too many obstacles in their way to an earlier, safer abortion.
Unwanted pregnancies have more negative effects on a woman's health, particularly her mental health, than abortions do.
According to the American Psychological Association, "the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater among adult women who resolve unplanned pregnancy with a single, elective, first-trimester abortion than it is among those who give birth." However, women who are forced to carry unplanned pregnancies to term have an increased risk of mental health problems, such as postpartum depression, as well as more physical problems and lower hemoglobin levels compared with women who carried out a planned pregnancy.
A mother should have the final say when it comes to her child's life -- or the loss of it.
As I stated before, most mothers who have abortions were unprepared to become pregnant and had circumstances that would have harmed the life of the child or abnormalities that would lead to its early death anyway. In these circumstances, abortion is the safest option for both the mother and the child.
An obstetrician from Washington, D.C., discussed why he now performs late-term abortions, though he initially opposed abortion for religious reasons: women seeking abortions in the second trimester "lack access to health care or don't have an understanding of their body changes, and often figure out later that they're pregnant. Or they find out early enough that they're pregnant, but their lack of access to health care or volatile, dysfunctional relationships delay seeking help.
The women most likely to be in those situations are trapped in poverty, often women of color or poor socioeconomic backgrounds, less education, and women and girls at the extremes of reproductive age. Women beyond the age where they think they can become pregnant, or young girls who have infrequent and irregular sexual activity and aren't conscious of it."
He went on to discuss the cases of two women who had an abortion performed by him: one was an attorney who found an abnormality in the 21st week that was lethal and would severely impair, if not lead to an early death of, the child; the second was a thirteen-year-old girl whose uncle had molested her, and who kept the pregnancy secret from her parents and ended up having an abortion at 20 weeks. These cases are not uncommon among women seeking an abortion.
The main point to consider when discussing abortion rights is that most mothers who have an abortion are looking out for the welfare of their child. Many of these women are pregnant with children who have anomalies that will lead to death before birth or very early in life, or that will severely impair the child and cause immense suffering. Many others are in poor situations that are not suitable for raising and caring for a child and seek to terminate the pregnancy quickly and painlessly for the fetus.
It is also important to note that many pregnancies end before a woman even knows she is pregnant -- as many as 50 to 75 percent. 21.3 percent of pregnancies end in the fifth week, just after a woman is able to get a positive result on a pregnancy test.
No one mourns the life of these fetuses, because they are not alive yet -- they are merely a clump of cells with potential, the same as any lone egg or sperm cell in any human's body. No one wants to kill unborn children, and pro-choice activists are not advocating for terminating lives. They are advocating for saving the lives of pregnant women who cannot survive a pregnancy.