The ongoing debate on abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the political sphere, and it has attracted increased attention over this election cycle. It has become a more pressing issue as the public is uncertain about how abortion rights will change when President-elect Trump takes office.
His presidency is expected to usher in a more conservative stance on abortion, as shown by Vice President-elect Pence’s pro-life position and Trump’s promise that “the justices that I am going to appoint will be pro-life.” The public is aware of the gravity of this matter, as 45% of Americans stated that it is important to them that future Supreme Court nominees share their views on abortion.
The pro-choice vs. pro-life divide continues to deepen as each side resists compromise, fearing that their opposition will take advantage of any settlement. While many people have become absorbed in abortion as a political issue, they forget about the moral underpinnings that make it such a factious topic. This disparity can be seen in polls taken by the Pew Research Center, where 84% of liberal Democrats believe that abortion should be legal in most cases, but only 25% believe that it is morally acceptable.
While political parties shift and realign, people’s moral values remain unchanging, showing that the real discrepancy at the core of the abortion debate is not political affiliation, but morality. In 2001, 42% of people believed that abortion was morally acceptable, and 45% believed it was morally unacceptable; by 2016 the former percentage raised to 43%, and the latter increased to 47%. These insignificant changes over the course of 15 years show that people are unwavering in their stance on ethical issues like abortion. While gender, age, and race show differences in opinion, the most significant division can be seen amongst religions, further proving that abortion is an ethical dilemma.
As an 18-year-old woman, reproductive rights are especially relevant to my gender and age group. However, my moral compass outweighs my desire for legal rights. While there are various kinds of abortion, late-term abortion is most controversial because it directly conflicts with our standards of ethics and morality. It is for this reason that we should ban all third-trimester abortions where the fetus has developed for 24 weeks or longer.
Abortion, “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy” (Merriam-Webster), is considered late-term when it is performed in the third trimester of pregnancy. These are also referred to as post-viability abortions, because by 24 weeks a fetus is able to survive outside of the womb. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this stage in development is accepted by most hospitals as the point of viability, and premature babies born at this stage have been proven to survive.
While a fetus’s heart and lungs have already developed after 5 weeks, they acquire a recognizable EEG brain pattern after around 24 weeks. This mental development proves that, at this stage, fetuses have the capability for rational thought. Therefore, 24 weeks after conception is the point at which fetuses can be considered full human beings. It is a universal standard that it is immoral to kill another person; therefore, killing these fetuses is also an outright moral injustice.
When we accept that a 24-week-old fetus is a human being, late-term abortion becomes an ethical conflict between the woman’s right over her body and the fetus’ right to life. It is clear that someone’s life takes precedence over another’s choice. Those that disagree with this statement must admit that they believe a human life is less important than someone’s free will.
This incorrect prioritization can be illustrated in the following example. Imagine that you know someone who is an alcoholic, and when they become drunk they severely abuse their partner. While it is their own choice to drink, this choice results in direct harm to another person. Would you interject in this scenario, such as by preventing the alcoholic from drinking or by helping the partner to leave? Any rational person would rightfully intervene in this situation in order to protect the partner’s well being. If you accept this decision, you consequently concede to the fact that intervention may be justified when its purpose is to protect someone’s life.
This same idea can be broadened to justify the government’s restriction of late-term abortion. Our government’s role, first and foremost, is to protect every person’s rights, including our natural right to life. In this way, the government should be able to prohibit late-term abortions on the premise that they violate the human right to life of the fetus.
Two relevant Supreme Court cases touched upon the issue of late-term abortions, but their discretionary restrictions indirectly allow these abortions to continue. Roe v. Wade (1973) gave states the power to impose restrictions on third-trimester abortions; this has permitted 9 states to have no restrictions, making late-term abortions legal there. Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act; this act bans a specific procedure called partial-birth abortion, but otherwise doesn’t restrict third-trimester abortions.
Both of these cases include stipulations regarding late-term abortions, but these regulations need to be expanded and widely implemented in order to be effective. These limits should be the foundation for further restrictions completely banning third-trimester abortions. We need to implement a federal ban on all abortions past 24 weeks after conception; the only exception to this ban would be if the mother’s life were endangered by the pregnancy.
These Supreme Court decisions suggest that a federal ban on late-term abortions would be upheld, especially in light of the anticipated appointment of a pro-life Supreme Court Justice.
In addition to the Supreme Court, the public would also support a federal ban on post-viability abortions. According to Gallup, 80% of Americans think that abortion should be illegal in the last three months of pregnancy. This ban is a reasonable restriction on abortion rights, and both pro-choice and pro-life advocates should support this.
Late-term abortion is a legal issue that is grounded in moral values. If we as Americans respect our moral duty to protect human life, we will support and uphold a federal ban on post-viability abortions.