Why fetal development matters
Posted on December 12, 2011
William Saletan, journalist and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War, recently participated in a public dialogue with Ann Furedi, the chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service, on the role of fetal development in the abortion debate.
The discussion centered on the panelists’ diverging views: Saletan thinks fetal development is central to the morality of abortion, whereas Furedi believes the moral significance of fetal development is subjective throughout pregnancy.
In a follow-up essay, Saletan calls Furedi’s position “subjectivism run amok.”
Furedi says … “there isn’t any profound point at which you can say there is a difference between one kind of fetus and another.” In other words, because the fetus develops new tissues and capacities each week, there’s no particular week at which it’s logical to draw a line. You might draw such a line, but that would just be your opinion. As Furedi puts it, “any definition of late abortion is arbitrary and subjective.”
Therefore, the person whose subjective view should prevail is the pregnant woman: “There are some women who would feel that 11 weeks is too late for them, or that 10 weeks is too late for them, because of their personal circumstances. There are other women who, faced with the decision quite late in their pregnancy, will feel that they can no longer bear to carry a child to term.”
How late do such feelings warrant a right to abortion? All the way to birth.
In Furedi’s remarks about women, I saw compassion. But in what she has said and written about human life in the womb (“Is there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks?”), we have a chilling portrait of subjectivism run amok. No stage of fetal development is meaningful in a way that merits interference in the right to abortion. Spinal cord formation? That’s subjective. Brain construction? Subjective. Coordinated movement? Subjective. Distinctive response to the mother’s voice? Subjective. Pain perception? Spontaneous cortical activity? Viable lungs? It’s all subjective.
I highly recommend these links for anyone interested in the abortion debate. We often hear debates between pro- and anti-choice advocates, but rarely do we hear debates between (informed) people of diverging pro-choice persuasions over core issues like fetal development.