Debate over fetal ‘viability’ reignited as technology advances

An American law professor and former federal prosecutor writes in an Op/Ed for CNN that advances in technology, specifically the increasing ability of modern medicine to keep pre-term fetuses alive outside the womb, should spur corresponding changes in abortion law that would criminalize abortions earlier and earlier, based on the technology available at the time.  While he doesn’t suggest how far he is willing to take his argument, specifically, whether women are just expected to sit back and watch as abortion rights shrink more and more as men’s technology and the male medical machine advance, he does make sure to mention that he’s “pro-choice” and a “progressive” about a dozen times.

From the article:

We are also haunted by the ragged remains of the Supreme Court opinion in Roe v. Wade. Despite being disavowed by subsequent opinions and some of the individual justices, one part of that precedent lives on in the statutes of some states and the practices of several doctors: The assertion in Roe’s majority opinion that “viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks).”

The scientific claim that viability (the ability of a fetus to live outside the womb) “usually” occurs at 28 weeks has been undermined by medical advances over the past 38 years.

Children who would have died if born late in the second trimester in 1973 would more than likely live if they were born now. A Swedish study in 2009 found that preterm babies born late in the second trimester who are given intensive care survive at surprising rates: 53% of those born at 23 weeks live, 67% at 24 weeks, and by 25 weeks, 82% of the babies survive. (Sweden’s health care system makes it possible to reliably track survival rates, but the type of care provided there is similar to that available in the United States).

In the same way that the law had to change to accommodate advances in DNA evidence that can exonerate those on death row, state laws must change to accommodate that with modern medical care, a child born at 27 weeks is very likely not only going to live, but live a fairly normal life.

Yes that’s right: abortion, a women’s rights issue and a reproductive health issue, involving multiple overlapping male-centric institutions and systems of patriarchal oppression — specifically medicine, religion and law — specifically designed to subjugate women on the basis of our sex, is exactly like men wrongly convicted of violent crimes and must be treated as such.  And I guess in his analogy, the fetus is the criminal wrongly imprisoned, and male technology must be allowed to save him.  And clearly, the woman is the state, from which our fetus, uh, male protagonist must be saved.

There are obvious problems, of course, with framing the abortion problem in male-centric terms, and the problem is that it’s absurd, reductionist, misogynistic, and doesn’t really capture the essence of the problem (from women’s perspective) and utterly fails to get at the heart of the matter, again and again.

And the essence of the problem is that women are being subjected to PIV and impregnated, whether they want to be or not, and men have set up their institutions to attach to women’s lives and bodies at the moment of conception, in ways that these institutions never attach to male bodies and men’s lives.  And pregnancy can be a dangerous medical event that’s expensive, time consuming, and interferes with a woman’s ability to work and fulfill pre-existing obligations, such as caring for existing children or aging parents, or herself.

And in the case of technology and viability specifically, men control the technology that’s going to make pre-term fetuses increasingly “viable” with no foreseeable endpoint, and they will stop advancing that technology when they want to.  Men control the relevant technology, not women, so if abortion rights are tied to technological advances redefining “viability” then women’s abortion rights are subjected to men’s whims and are on a steady decline with no end in sight.  This is unacceptable.  And as men largely control fertility and reproduction too, being that they are the ones impregnating women through mandatory PIV and rape, it seems even more clear that the issue of women’s “choice” really isn’t; the issue of abortion and reproductive rights is an issue of men’s choice.  This is clearly the truth of the matter, and again, it is unacceptable.

This business with “viability” and the ways men’s legal and medical systems overlap makes it all too clear that it’s men’s intention to control women through patriarchal institutions and overlapping systems of male power, via women’s ability to become impregnated and to reproduce, no matter what.  This is just more of the same, and it’s not a valid reason, from women’s perspective, or even from an egalitarian perspective, to further restrict our access to abortion.