In 1983, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicted that medical advances would soon eliminate the standard that was established in Roe v. Wade to determine when life begins in the womb. These technological improvements would wind up making the so-called right-to abortion obsolete if pro-choice advocates relied solely on science, she implied.
Flash forward to 2022, in the wake of the leaked draft from the Supreme Court of the United States showing that the court is poised to overturn Roe, it is abundantly clear that not only was O’Connor correct, but Democratic leaders have by and large abandoned all pretense of caring about the data regarding the child in the womb. Instead, Democratic officials now insist women have a “sacred” right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, regardless of the “viability standard.”
Yet, while Democratic leaders may not care about the science, polls, and personal anecdotes of both doctors and mothers, new technology — such as ultrasounds and in utero surgery — has shifted Americans’ understanding of when life begins in the womb, thereby changing the abortion debate.
In 1973, the court outlined in Roe that the State had an “important and legitimate interest in potential life,” and that “the ‘compelling’ point is at viability. This is so because the fetus presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb.” It placed that viability around 24-28 weeks.
The court also observed that “some…argue that the woman’s right is absolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses. With this we do not agree.”
In doing so, the court acknowledged that the standard of viability could change based on new data and that a woman does not have the right to abortion-on-demand throughout her pregnancy.
In 1983, in a dissenting opinion in Akron v. Akron Center For Reproductive Health, O’Connor argued that “the Roe framework,” as she called it, “is clearly on a collision course with itself. As the medical risks of various abortion procedures decrease, the point at which the State may regulate for reasons of maternal health is moved forward to actual childbirth. As medical science becomes better able to provide for the separate existence of the fetus, the point of viability is moved further back toward conception.”
Indeed, medical advances have changed science’s understanding of life as well its potential to survive outside the womb. In 2021, columnist Chris Cunningham observed that at the time Roe was decided, “babies born younger than 28 weeks could not be expected to survive. Today, babies born before that have a 79% chance of surviving.”
In terms of actually viewing the child in the womb, the use of ultrasound has perhaps been the most game-changing technology , according to Dr. Tara Sander Lee, Senior Fellow and Director of Life Sciences at Charlotte Lozier Institute. Dr. Lee is also a Harvard trained scientist who previously directed a research laboratory investigating congenital heart disease in children.
“The black and white dots of an ultrasound before Roe could barely identify the head of an unborn child in the womb, much less identify the heartbeat at six weeks, watch the child at 15 weeks suck his thumb, or even cry when receiving an anesthetic injection prior to life saving surgery in utero,” Dr. Lee told The Daily Wire. “All of that is possible today, and even routine. What expectant mothers now see is a living, moving child inside them with a face and behaviors that will last a lifetime.”
Dr. Lee also provided a visual which illustrates how advanced this technology has become since 1973:
“Modern ultrasound technology lets us see with our eyes what both science and our hearts have long known, which is the undeniable humanity of the unborn child,” Dr. Lee explained.
“Science confirms and ultrasound shows that unborn babies respond to touch and taste just like you and me,” she argued. “They feel excruciating pain. With fully formed noses and lips, eyes, and eyebrows, fingers and toes, they explore the world around them. And with advancements in surgical techniques, unborn babies are even treated inside the womb, like any other patient, from as early as 15 weeks.”
Indeed, activists like Ashley McGuire also concur with that line of reasoning. In 2018, McGuire told The Atlantic, “The pro-life message has been, for the last 40-something years, that the fetus … is a life, and it is a human life worthy of all the rights the rest of us have. That’s been more of an abstract concept until the last decade or so.”
She added, “when you’re seeing a baby sucking its thumb at 18 weeks, smiling, clapping, [it becomes] harder to square the idea that the 20-week-old, that unborn baby or fetus, is discardable.”
Dr. Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist and faculty member at Northwestern University as well as a researcher at Charlotte Lozier, also told The Atlantic that her own career progression has helped clarify that a “fetus” in the womb is a human being.
“The more I advanced in my field of neonatology, the more it just became the logical choice to recognize the developing fetus for what it is: a fetus, instead of some sort of sub-human form,” Dr. Malloy told the magazine. “It just became so obvious that these were just developing humans.”
An oft-repeated line from pro-choice advocates is that the baby is just a lump of cells and nothing more. However, the “ultrasound shows that the abortion lobby’s tired, old argument” is a lie, Dr. Lee told The Daily Wire.
“Modern science reveals the humanity of the unborn child. The truth is now visible for all of America,” she added. “It’s time to give the unborn a voice in this matter of life.”
Many polls would indicate that most Americans agree with that sentiment to a certain extent. In 2019, Harvard Center for American Political Studies and The Harris Poll issued a poll among 1,295 registered voters which revealed that 54% supported overturning or modifying Roe and 46% percent supported affirming that decision.
The poll also found that 70% of voters supported making abortion legal only within the first trimester, or until 12 weeks. Additionally, a small margin of American voters, only 6%, supported making abortion legal until the moment of birth.
Other polls also indicate that Americans want restrictions on abortion. In 2021, a poll conducted by Marist and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus found that “most Americans (71%) said that abortion should be restricted to the first three months of pregnancy.”
Furthermore, data would seem to indicate that, as discussions increase about what late-term abortions actually entail, the public becomes more pro-life — not less.
In 2019, a February poll also conducted by Marist and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, found that “Americans are now as likely to identify as pro-life (47%) as they are pro-choice (47%). In January of that year, a similar Marist survey found that Americans were more likely to identify as pro-choice than pro-life 55% to 38%, a 17-point gap.”
What appeared to drive that change was the conversation in the media surrounding former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s (D) indication that he would allow a baby to die after undergoing a botched abortion, as it related to a bill being pushed by state Democrats which would make late-term abortion legal.
“This has been a measure that has been so stable over time. To see that kind of change was surprising,” Barbara Carvalho, who directed the poll said. “And the increased discussion [of late-term abortion] in the public forum in the past month appears to have made the biggest difference in how people identify on the issue.”
Though, the question still remains: If the science shows that life begins earlier than the standard set in 1973, and polls indicate that Americans want some restrictions on abortions, then why are Democratic leaders pushing for abortion to remain legal through all nine months of labor?
Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced this month that the Senate would hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that “would establish a right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in all 50 states,” the National Review noted. Around the same time, Ohio Senate candidate Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) also told the media that abortion should remain legal for all 40 weeks. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki even refused to state whether President Joe Biden supported any limits on abortions on Thursday.
The Democratic Party’s focus appears to have shifted solely to the woman’s right to choose, her bodily autonomy, and her supposed privacy. What is never mentioned in the Left’s defense of such stances is the baby, or their viability.
Science has indisputably shown that Roe’s standard of viability is outdated. As the field of medicine improves, the ability for babies to survive earlier and earlier outside the womb will also increase. The risk to the mother will decrease.
The simple fact is that if the Democrats did acknowledge that science has won, that the fetus is not just a lump of cells, then they would have to recognize the fetus for what it is — a human being with the inalienable right to life. That would settle the abortion question once and for all, though this doesn’t seem possible for the Left to accept.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.