As early as possible, as late as necessary

Submitted by SJW on 10 March, 2020 - 5:01 Author: Ruth Cashman

Our reproductive rights include the right to dignity, information, and bodily autonomy and integrity. In a world where so much of the framework of sexism has been control of women’s sexuality, body, and reproduction, our right to make autonomous decisions about our own body and reproduction is central to our right to physical and psychological integrity. We know that under capitalism there is a limit to the choice and control we have over reproduction, but we push for the greatest possible bodily autonomy. In some places we have seen steps forward in reproductive freedom, most recently the announcement that Argentina is to legalise abortion. However our reproductive rights are a battleground and have being pushed back in many countries – we have seen a reduction in both sexual health services and maternal and neo-natal services- austerity measures have fallen heaviest on those with caring responsibilities meaning parenthood has become more demanding, and we have seen attacks on abortion rights.

In the US the forces of reaction are pushing a range of measures designed to push back abortion rights and test Roe v Wade. These include laws to effectively ban abortion (Alabama), heartbeat bills meant to restrict the gestational limits for legal abortion to six to eight weeks (Georgia, Missouri and Ohio) and reduction of limits by two weeks (Arkansas). Though there are fringes of the anti-choice movement who believe extreme legislation can overturn Roe v Wade, most see attempted bans and heartbeat laws as propaganda whilst actual legal restriction will only be successful incrementally. This makes defending and extending gestational limits of legal abortion a key focus for us. Our demand should be abortion as early as possible and as late as necessary. Not only must we reject the right’s demand that the first detectable “heartbeat” (electrical flickers in foetal tissue) be the cut-off, we also must reject the far more mainstream limit of foetal viability (currently estimated at approximately 24 weeks). The truth is that pregnancy and foetal development are a continuum, not a set of fixed stages, and foetal viability will change with technological and medical advances. With the development of artificial wombs which could save extremely premature babies and open real possibility for exogenesis, gestational limits based on clinical viability will leave us with a shrinking window in which to access abortion.

The truth is that no meaningful distinction can be made between an abortion at five weeks and at seven weeks – before and after the “heartbeat bill” cut-offs. Most of those pushing for the restrictions are aware of this, they simply want to reduce the number of abortions by making accessing abortion more difficult. Is there any more convincing distinction between an abortion at 23 weeks and 25 weeks? Clinically yes, but morally no. The foetus gets bigger as the pregnancy continues making the procedure more difficult and thus dangerous- this is why we want to ensure women can access abortion as early as they know they want one. Foetal viability may become relevant at the point we offer operations to transplant foetus from unwanted pregnancies into artificial wombs, but that is not what is currently up for debate. The question is, should we force the continuation of pregnancy. No, of course we shouldn’t.

Though philosophical and medical arguments on the start point of human life may sway us in our individual choices on whether to carry a pregnancy to term, they should not set legal limits. Nobody should be forced to stay pregnant against their wishes. I have the ability to tell the state my wishes for my organs after I die, if I don’t want my organs they are legally bound by my decision, even if they could save another life. That means I have more of a say over my body after I’ve died that I do alive and pregnant.
Take a moment to consider the horrible affront to bodily autonomy the idea of legally requiring the continuation of pregnancy is. We need abortion as early as possible and as late as necessary.

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