According to the Guttmacher Institute, forty-four states prohibit abortion after some point in pregnancy. California, New York, and Washington prohibit abortion after fetal viability. Massachusetts prohibits abortion after twenty-four weeks.
As the Guttmacher Institute says (ibid), “The current U.S. Supreme Court standard holds that states may prohibit abortion after fetal viability as long as there are exceptions for the life and health (both physical and mental) of the pregnant person.”
Nobody in their right mind would support aborting a healthy, third-trimester fetus unless there was some threat to the mother’s health or some other extenuating circumstance.
Indeed, third trimester abortions are rare, about 1% of abortions according to the University of Washington.
So, abortion right supporters have little to lose by agreeing to abortion restrictions.
But nor should “pro-life” supporters have any fundamental agreement with a Roe vs. Wade, or with a minor change to it, since it already does allow restrictions on late terms abortions.
The main issue at stake is: when should the cutoff be? At fetal viability? (That will change as medical technology progresses.) At twenty-four weeks? Twenty weeks? Sixteen weeks? Twelve weeks? Eight weeks? Six weeks?
A handful of states have attempted to ban all abortions: to set the cutoff at conception. That position is extreme, since early in pregnancy the embryo or fetus has an undeveloped nervous system and hence lacks consciousness.
At the opposite extreme are those abortion rights activists who claim that a woman has an absolute right to control her body. That position is extreme because a late term fetus has a highly developed nervous system.
I know that this position will offend pro-choice supporters. But with animal rights on the ascendancy — for example, Animals to be formally recognised as sentient beings in UK law — it’s hard to accept that late term human fetuses lack all rights. It should take a fraction of a second for anyone to realize this. I came to this conclusion after writing the article Why Abortion isn’t Murder, which argues that fetuses lack preciousness until they have a well-developed nervous system, and that the growth of such a nervous system is a gradual process.
Extreme pro-life activists think that at conception a person is created all at once. Extreme pro-choice activists think that a person is created all at once at birth. The more reasonable view is that personhood develops gradually.
It’s ironic that some scientists and animal rights activists increasingly push for treating non-human animals as persons (e.g., here), yet some pro-choice activists don’t want to treat late-term fetuses as persons. On the other hand, late-term abortions without extenuating circumstances are already effectively illegal under Roe vs. Wade.
Granted, debate over the cutoff and about exceptions for, say, mental health of the mother, will be contentious, but it’s not a fundamental question about whether women have an absolute right to choose or about whether all abortion is murder.
A compromise about abortion rights is within reach: acknowledge that late term abortions without extenuating circumstances are immoral, but protect a woman’s right to choose abortion early in pregnancy.
Imagine all the political races the Democrats could have won if they had compromised on abortion years ago.