Reconsidering Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision has been interpreted to mean that viability, the moment the fetus can live outside the womb, marks the earliest point that a State’s interest in fetal life can constitutionally justify a ban on abortion.
With over 20 abortion court cases in the pipeline working their way up to the Court and two new justices, reconsidering Roe v. Wade has been brought to the forefront of the public discussion.
The justices deciding Roe v. Wade said they were incapable of determining when life began “at this point in the development of man’s knowledge.” Has that changed?
If that determination still cannot be made, then Roe v. Wade’s recognition that “the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting… the potentiality of human life” will become the focus as the Court determines where it should draw the line.
A Window Into the Womb
One important factor in any reconsideration will be the improvement of technology and our knowledge of fetal development in the womb during the last decades. As National Geographic’s In The Womb explained in 2007, “using new 3D and even 4D scanning techniques, a window has opened on the womb… reveal[ing] that the fetus behaves in a much more complex way than previously imagined.”
Note: All statements are direct quotes from National Geographic’s In the Womb.
“She’s gone from egg, to embryo, to fetus, to trillions of cells of newborn baby. Her birth marks the beginning of her journey in the world, but she has already traveled an incredible path during her nine-month odyssey in the womb. Protected by her mother and following her own unique genetic blueprint, she has grown a face, arms, eyes, and legs. She has a brain and nervous system to control her body, stomach and intestines to digest food, and a heart to pump blood.
She has learned to breathe, to hear, to feed, to remember, and to tell her parents when she is hungry, tired, happy, or in pain… all before being born and now she is ready to face the world.”
“One of the many things revealed by the 4D scans is the fact that babies have rapid eye movement sleep. This is a period of sleep when the eyes flicker around behind the eyelids. Later in life, this is an indication of dreaming. This gentle flicker of an eye could be a sign that the fetus, still with a month to go before being born, is already dreaming…
In just over eight months, the brain has grown approximately 100 billion neurons with 100 trillion connections.”
Can Survive Without Much Medical Help
“…The fetus can survive, if born any time from about 35 weeks, without much medical help. Although the longer she statys inside, the healthier she’ll be at birth.”
Little Difference Between Brain of 33-Week-Old Fetus and Newborn
“At 33 weeks, just over eight months, the fetus may recognize a particular piece of music and even jump in time to it.
Some scientists argue that there’s very little difference between the brain of a newborn baby and that of a 33 week old fetus.
Where once it seemed that the mental development of a baby began at birth, now it appears that birth could be a relatively insignificant event in developmental terms.
She may have to support herself after birth, but for the process of thinking, learning, and remembering she’s already been hard at it for three months and her brain will continue to grow at the same rate for the next year.
Senses Buzzing & Consciousness
“At 28 weeks, or 7 months, the baby is over two-thirds of the way through her time in the womb and is gaining weight fast as she lays down a layer of fat under her skin, her senses are buzzing, and her cerebral cortex has matured enough to support consciousness.
Over the next four weeks, her nervous system will become as advanced as a newborn baby. She’s becoming aware of the world around her and for the first time, her brain is beginning to create memory.”
Senses Flicker to Life
“From 24 weeks, or six months, the fetus enters one of the most exciting and dramatic periods of development. This is the time when she receives her first stimulation from the world beyond as her senses flicker to life.
Most of the sense organs; ears, nose, taste buds, and the nerves that respond to touch are now mature. Her brain is being bombarded by signals from these sensory cells and she must begin to interpret this overload of sensation.
Throughout her life, her senses will be her key to the world beyond. They will allow her to develop a sense of self to interact with others, to explore, and to learn.”
Possible to Survive Outside Womb
“After six months of pregnancy, at the end of the second trimester, everything is developed and is functioning as it will in the fully grown baby… the fetus reaches a major landmark. Though barely longer than her father’s hand, it’s possible that she could survive outisde the cradle of the womb.
She’d still need extensive care, but 24 weeks is currently regarded as the earliest that a baby can be born and still have a good chance of surviving.
Exceptionally, a few babies live when born as young as 22 weeks…”
Mimics Life Outside the Womb
“At 18 weeks, the fetus begins to mimic life outside the womb. Her digestive system shows signs of activity. She has no need to eat or drink but, as can be seen in this 4D image, she begins to swallow the fluid she’s floating in, the amniotic fluid. Some indigestible waste gather in her intestines… but most of the fluid passes through her urinary system and back out to rejoin the amniotic fluid.
Around this time, when the fetus is about 18 weeks old, the mother may become aware of its movements for the first time. Although the fetus has been active for quite some time, it’s only now that her movements are strong enough for her mother to feel. Women who have been pregnant before tend to be more alert to the slight fluttering sensation and may feel it when the baby is just 15 weeks old.”
“The fetus, which has been growing for nearly five months, is halfway through her journey toward birth. She has grown to seven inches long and is showing an incredible level of detail. She even has her very own fingerprints.
Most mothers have a more detailed second ultrasound scan around this time… doctors have discovered that, for parents-to-be, the scans also play a beneficial role in developing emotional bonds… research has shown that seeing the face and expression of the developing fetus, while it’s still inside the womb, can be an intense bonding experience. It can provide an important boost to the baby’s development once it’s born and also to the long term relationship between the child and her parents.”
Nervous System Up & Running
“After four months… Her nervous system is up and running and her movements are increasingly being controlled by her brain… Muscles are flexing, fingers and toes are separate and defined, and her bones are hardening… The central nervous system extends its connections from the brain to most parts of the body, allowing the brain to gradually establish total control.
The heart, for instance, is no longer beating spontaneously and spasmodically, instead the brain regulates the muscles and keeps them pumping at a steady 140-150 beats per minute. Using a Doppler Probe, it’s now possible to hear what a baby’s heart sounds like…
She’s becoming sensitive to touch and if prodded through the mother’s abdomen, she’s likely to squirm.
…the fetus makes a lot of intricate movements. She can bend, flex, and twist her extremities; her fingers, wrists, legs, and toes.
More incredible, she’s already beginning to develop an awareness of the space around her.”
Sense of Hearing
“At three months old, the fetus’s most developed sense is hearing…
The first sounds the fetus hears as her ears start picking up vibrations at 13 weeks are the gurgles and rumbles made by her mother’s body; a succession of hiccups, burps, bubbles, sloshes, and slurps mark the passage of food, liquid, and air in, out, and through the maze of passages and tubes just inches from the baby’s ears.
The fetus also makes her own noises as she kicks and swishes in the amniotic fluid.
She can also hear the competing thud of heartbeats, her own racing at twice the speed of the mother’s… the fetus can also hear sounds from the world outside…”
Decreased Risk of Miscarriage
“After 12 weeks, the fetus enters the second trimester, the middle three months of pregnancy. Although she’s still no bigger than a fist, she’s much less delicate and there’s less risk of a miscarriage.
Miscarriages are most common in the first three months when an imbalance in the immune system, stress, or if the mother has previously given birth to a boy could all increase the risk.”
All Organs Formed
“The period from 6 to 11 weeks has seen the most dramatic transformation of the entire pregnancy, with the fetus undergoing a metamorphosis and growing nearly 5 times bigger.
In a frantic five-week burst; over 200 types of cells have been made, muscles and nerves are twitching, there’s a liver, two kidneys, and a stomach no bigger than a grain of rice, all the organs of a human baby have formed, and it’s still less than 3 inches long.”
“After growing for eight weeks, the embryo looks more like a tiny human and becomes known as a fetus, which in Latin means offspring.
She has reached an important milestone… the crucial job of feeding and nurturing the fetus is completely taken over by the placenta… it provides nutrients while filtering out waste. The placenta is the fetus’s life-support system during her time in the womb.”
“One of the first organs to form is the heart… after 22 days, a single cell stirs, as if jolted to life. This tiny movement sparks a chain reaction and other cells in the cluster pick up the rhythm. Incredibly, they all begin to beat in perfect unison…
Later on, when the nervous system is more developed, the brain will carefully control the rate of contraction, keeping it steadily beating and pumping for the rest of the child’s life. If she lives to 75, that’ll be nearly 3 billion heartbeats.”
“The two cells gradually and gracefully become one… this is the moment of conception; when an individual’s unique set of DNA is created, a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated… the genes she’s inherited have already predetermined her looks and much of her character; whether she’s stubborn, intelligent, a thrill-seeker, or good at music, and even her vulnerability to certain diseases…”
Where Would You Draw The Line?
Where States Draw The Line
15 states draw the line at viability. This is the earliest possible point allowed under Roe v. Wade.
6 others draw the line at the earliest ages of viability.
A total of 22 states have challenged Roe v. Wade by drawing the line before viability.
In fact, Alabama has made performing abortions at any stage of pregnancy a felony. It is punishable by 10-99 yrs or life in prison.
12 states have challenged Roe v. Wade by banning most abortions after 20 weeks, pointing to research showing the fetus may feel pain then.
6 states have challenged Roe v. Wade by banning most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as 4 weeks.
A growing number of states are also considering this legislation.