Abortion, Science and Post-Roe America

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the June 24, 2022, issue of Newsweek

In the half-century since Roe v. Wade, the science of fetal development and early birth has advanced considerably. Neonatal physicians and researchers have modified their thinking on when a fetus is and isn’t viable outside the womb, on how it makes the transition from a bundle of cells to a thinking, feeling being, on the relationship between a fetus and the health of the mother and on the many factors that determine whether a particular premature birth will be successful….Read more

2 thoughts on “Abortion, Science and Post-Roe America

  1. Ray H. Noblit says:

    The article was interesting and informative, but limited in value to the abortion debate. The problem is that the title of the article is misleading, it isn’t about the science of abortion, about the questions of when a fetus becomes a baby, but mostly when it is considered viable outside the womb.

    My layman’s understanding is that science hasn’t established to any certainty just when brain development crosses the threshold from fetus to personhood. The article just briefly touches on this, the most important determining factor in what point abortion should be limited.

    Viability outside the womb should have no bearing on permissibility of abortion. The article touches briefly on why this should be so when mentioning artificial wombs. We don’t know what the future of medicine holds. What is science fiction now, could be common place in the future. A test tube baby developed in an artificial womb from point of conception to full term.

    The article seems to suggest that viability outside the natural wombis the determining factor in abortion being allowed. This is in my opinion dangerous to women and very unscientific.

    • storyadmin says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Ray. You’re right about the headline being somewhat misleading–I don’t have anything to do with headlines, and it’s pretty standard in journalism for editors to stick the most controversial possible headline on an article. Half the criticism I get is about the headlines that get plopped on my articles–legitimate criticism, to be sure, but there isn’t much I can say about it in response.

      I don’t disagree that brain development is a big deal in informing discussions of the hypothetical transformation to personhood, and I agree that I don’t say all that much about it. I’d just claim that I think I actually described the essence of what’s known today about this critical topic. Going beyond what I said would just involve very technical or else speculative information that wouldn’t cast much additional light on the key issue of when a fetus might be reasonably said to be capable of the sort of thought and feeling we associate with personhood.

      As for whether viability should have bearing on abortion law and rights, that’s really a question outside the scope of the article. I merely state clearly in the article that it is a fact that close to half the women in America live in states where the legality of abortion is and will likely continue to be at least implicitly tied to viability, which makes the science of viability all the more important. The exact time frame of viability is not really the big argument in abortion politics, but it’s a consequential issue nonetheless, and it’s one that science informs.

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