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They’re not babies, they’re fetuses. They don’t have brain cells. Their lives aren’t “destroyed”. All they are is a lump of cells. There is a cutoff for when abortion is NOT allowed because that’s when they get the brain cells and start to form into an ACTUAL baby. God. All this fucking guilt tripping propaganda is making me sick.
So… no. That’s not quite right.
Pretty early on, cells differentiate into layers, form an internal space, lay down the trackwork for a spinal cord, skeleton, brain… as soon as it’s a certain size there needs to be a heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to cells, and surprisingly early there’s a brain to stimulate developing muscles to twitch, and abortion is still legal.
(The “lump of cells stage” is more of an embryo thing, less of a fetus thing, fyi.)
Abortion is theoretically protected up to 24 weeks by the Supreme Court. It is possible, though rare and unlikely, for neonates delivered at or slightly before 24 weeks to, with truly fantastic modern medical intervention, survive and finish development outside the womb, sometimes with no developmental problems.
The brain is, at that stage, still not sufficiently formed for the idea of consciousness to be entertained (by doctors or the fetus!) — this presents an interesting case and gets into the theoretical ethics of artificial wombs; these fetuses are undergoing what is normal fetal development in an outside environment. They are still pre-persons in many ways, but our definitions haven’t developed a word to describe them. It’s the sort of question that I enjoy, because it makes me think about humanity in critical ways.
Back to the topic at hand, there’s also the consideration that there isn’t really a secret wellspring of frivolous late-term abortions, especially because the later one goes the more serious a procedure it is, and the more attractive carrying the pregnancy to term may be in comparison.
Plus, consent arguments, like I’ve posted links to before.
Well, this is an interesting question.
People seem to think the term fetus somehow reduces a baby to something that isn’t as valuable because everything is so emotionally charged in the abortion debate. But the truth is that you aren’t reducing a baby to something invaluable. You’re using the correct term.
Movement and reactions are not indicative of babies. Those things alone don’t make something a baby. Hell, there are plants that respond to light and touch, are those babies?
I think the thing that is most important to point out is that a fetus is in an unconscious state up until birth. The movement a fetus does is reactionary, it’s not purposely moving because it’s completely unaware of its surroundings or its body, let alone the movements its body makes.
I think when people say things like what you’re proposing, they are really projecting what they want to see their child as. Which isn’t to say that’s a problem, it just hinders their ability to see things objectively. People who say such a thing wanted their children so of course they believe it’s already THEIR child while it’s still inside of them and they don’t hesitate to refer to it as such.
This isn’t the case for the overwhelming majority of people who terminate.
My point is that a fetus isn’t a term that is used to reduce the value of the thing living in the womb, it’s the biologically accurate term and it is only capable of reactionary movements (ie, putting a flashlight on the belly causes the fetus to react to the light as a reflex, not because it realizes it’s doing it or is moving on purpose). Just as we recognize that a child is incapable of doing the same things as an adult or isn’t as developed as adult (for example, the brain is still developing in children, children lack developed breasts, etc.) we must recognize that a fetus isn’t capable of the same things that babies are, whether it be due to development or because of the unconscious state the fetus is in.
Yeah, just that whole "Oh but it's cute at 8 weeks" thing. The inherent feeling of the sanctity of life. I mean, I know a person's right to choose is far more important than how cute something is but I was just disturbed that I was suddenly thinking "No, we can't have abortion. Look at how cute a fetus is!"
We’re all supposedly hardwired to propagate and defend our species, so it makes sense that seeing a developing fetus would trigger those instincts.
Personally, I’ve been questioning this assumed sanctity of human life [over all others]. I don’t think I believe in it; at least, what I know about it does not appeal to me. I think it is arrogant to value human life over all others, and I think it is most cruel when our belief in the sanctity of human life leads us to value the quantity of life over the quality of life. What does it say about our compassion for our fellow human beings when we force a pregnant person to stay pregnant, or demand a person with a terminal illness stay alive as long as medically possible, even if they are in great pain or completely unaware?
What concerns me is suffering, and what is required for suffering is consciousness and perception. Is an 8-week fetus going to suffer during an abortion? All evidence points to no - at that point in brain development, its behavior and cognition is reflexive and sourced from the brain stem, or our reptilian brain. You can read what I’m reading about it here. It is unaware of itself and its environment. It doesn’t even have the capacity to do so.
Is an unhappily pregnant person suffering? Obviously. They are enduring the dramatic physical and hormonal changes, as well as having to make not-so-minor adjustments to their lives, depending on the individual’s situation.
Fetal development is amazing - I would call it miraculous if it wasn’t happening millions of times over every day. How we develop into functioning human beings is a beautiful and complex process, and watching a happily pregnant person be a part of that is a blessing. Supporting an unhappy or ambivalent person is, to me, a privilege, that they would let me bear witness to such an intimate part of their lives. As an aspiring doula, I am able to see how it is an absolute miracle to one person, and a curse to another. It’s all completely subjective, and it’s not our place to universally label it one way or another. It all comes down to the pregnant person - they are the ones carrying the pregnancy for months, and they know best what it is to them.
One of my friends, who is working toward a PhD in neuroscience, shared a study on fetal pain with our pro-choice group. She added:
A broad scientific review about fetal pain. One hears citations about if and when fetuses can feel pain, but knowing the actual science (even if it is ignored) is powerful. Read the summay! In short, there is wide agreement that the brain and nervous system are not developed enough, prior to 24 weeks, for pain to even be percieved. After that, there still isn't consciousness, which is necessary to experience pain.
One thing that has been mentioned, that is especially useful to challenge: anti-choice advocates (and in fact, that text of the fetal pain bill in Nebraska) will cite research showing that fetuses can exhibit evasive response to painful stimuli. However, reflexive actions to something painful occur independent of whether or not the pain has been perceived. Completely different parts of our nervous system deal with these things! Reflexive actions, including withdrawing from pain, are mediated by nerves and the spinal cord, not the brain. Pain is a manifestation of signals in the brain. Thus, it is 100% possible, (as described by Science!) to have the body withdraw from something that would be painful without it being perceived as pain.
I thought this would be useful to refute some of the "BUT IT CAN SENSE THE MOTHER'S DISTRESS" arguments. The study is titled "Fetal Awareness - Review of Research and Recommendations for Practice" and is located on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists site (rcog [dot] org).
Thanks a lot! Learning about brain development and function is hard when you’re a music therapy major relying on the internet :( I actually have this article saved on my desktop…from May…but I’m being a slowpoke putting it all together. And then I still have to write up a post on fetal development in the third trimester! Gah!
Uh, but yeah, thank you! Pain perception depends on multiple factors working together, so the development of one part alone doesn’t automatically switch it on.
Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.
Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.
I love Sylvia Plath.
(There’s a “life-size” cut-out of her somewhere in my parents’ house; a collage of all things Sylvia Plath, that was a final project in an Honors English course. I don’t know what to do with it but I know I can’t throw it out.)