Essay on the Future of Abortion: How Technology Will Impact Abortion Laws
Number of words: 1890
How interesting is it that abortion was a non-issue in the nineteenth century? There were no policies or debates concerning abortion. However, today, abortion is one of the most divisive and controversial issues in the U.S. (Rose 1). Over the years, many scholars have made their claims on whether abortion should be legal or illegal. Currently, it is legal to perform an abortion in the U.S. up to when a fetus becomes viable, which means that it can survive outside it mother’s womb. After a fetus is viable, abortion can only be allowed for health concerns for the mother (Alters, 11). However, different states have different regulations concerning abortion; for example, Alabama recently abolished all forms of abortion except for when the mother’s life is in danger (Sietstra, par 1). The issue of legalization of abortion is very controversial and one that keeps changing. Moreover, technology and medical practices concerning abortion keep advancing with time. The methods of performing abortions keep improving; for example, abortions pills that do not require a doctor’s supervision are now coming into play. One might therefore wonder what the future of abortion will be. In the future, technological and medical advancements will lead to more abortion bans and controls by the government, to protect the lives of the unborn babies, since fetus viability and incubation will happen at very young ages.
Future advancements in technology and medicine will make the government place bans and stricter laws on abortion by pushing back the period in which a fetus becomes viable. In the decision made in the Roe vs. Wade case, women in the U.S. have a right to abortion up until when the fetus is deemed viable; after that, they can only do an abortion for health reasons such as saving the life of the mother or her mental health (Alters, 11). Generally, a fetus becomes viable from twenty-four weeks onwards, give or take (Rose, 145). However, with future advancement in medicine and technology, fetal viability could be pushed back to a period earlier than that. For instance, the earliest recorded period of fetal viability was at twenty-one weeks and four days (May par 4). With improved technology, the organ maturity of a fetus, one of the main determinants of fetal viability, can be identified and analyzed even earlier during pregnancy. As a result, the period of fetal viability will reduce from twenty-four weeks, meaning a shorter period in which an abortion can happen, and thus a restriction on abortion after this period. Closely related to the idea of fetal viability is fetal incubation, which will also affect abortion laws in the future.
Better technology and medicine in the future would make the government place stricter controls on abortion by enabling fetal incubation at an even younger age than it is now. Currently, the fetal incubation age is similar to the fetal viability age that averages at 24 weeks (Rose, 145). In “U.S. Supreme Court decisions,” the second chapter of “Abortion: An Eternal Social and Moral Issue,” Alters asserts that in the third trimester when a fetus is able to survive outside the womb, the government through the different states can regulate or even illegalize abortion to safeguard the potential life of the fetus (11). In the future, new technology and trends in medicine will enable the incubation of fetuses from as young as eighteen weeks and even less (Brown par 11). The following quote from a medical journal on the recent advances in neonatology and what to expect in the future shows proof how existing technology already aids in examining fetuses and neonates with hope for improvement in the future:
Neonatal medicine continues to make rapid progress. Babies born at 24 weeks of gestation now have a better than evens chance of survival, a remarkable improvement compared to even a decade ago. The combination of antenatal steroids and postnatal surfactant has significantly reduced mortality and the risk of intracranial haemorrhage. Artificial ventilators have become more and more sophisticated and the role of high frequency oscillation (HFOV) as rescue treatment is now established. (Rennie, Bokhari F1)
In the future, it will, therefore, be possible to place fetuses under incubation while they are just a few weeks old. As a result, the government or the different states would be within their rights to claim a vested interest in the potential life of a fetus in such a way that a woman who was to undergo abortion might terminate her pregnancy, but the fetus would undergo incubation until it is mature.
An excellent example of how the idea of fetal viability and incubation will work together in the future resulting in more bans on abortion is considering the breakthrough that scientist made in 2017 and what it holds for the future. In an experiment, eight premature lambs in their last month of development were put in a high-tech ziplock bag (Brown par 1). Scientists monitored them until they grew to maturity. Although this technology is still under research and yet to be ready for use on human beings, it promises of more government control on abortion in the future. Right now, federal law allows for abortion until a fetus is viable. With this technology, the fetus at the time of abortion would be ‘viable’ irrespective of its age as long as it is put in an external womb where it would survive. Brown makes the following argument after interviewing a bioethicist from Havard Law School:
“In the future, Cohen said, it stands to reason that this technology could save the lives of fetuses born even earlier. Imagine then, that you had made the decision to terminate a pregnancy at 18 weeks, but that such a technology technically made it viable for the fetus to be born at that point in development, then finish developing outside the womb. Would an abortion still be legal?
‘It could wind up being that you only have the right to an abortion up until you can put [a fetus]in the artificial womb,’ said Cohen. ‘It’s terrifying.’” (Brown par 8-9).
The above example shows how the government will place more restrictions on abortion in the future as a result of improvement in technology and trends in medical practices.
Furthermore, future technology and advanced medical practices will lead to stricter controls on abortion by making pregnancies and the process of childbirth safe and thus removing one instance in which the government allows for abortion. In his article on how future technology could resolve the abortion debate, Benek argues that future technology will not only change how people feel about childbirth but will also make pregnancies safer for mothers by eliminating complications that arise during pregnancy (Benek par 17). One way under which abortion is legal under federal law is in the case where the life of the mother is at risk. Given that future technology would make pregnancies and childbirth safe, abortion would be legal for fetuses that are not viable and not the ones that are viable but in a situation where the life of the mother is at risk. Therefore, it means that it would be harder to have an abortion in the future than it is right now if the same laws continue to exist. However, some scholars have a different view on what future changes in technology and medical practices will have on government laws on abortion.
Some people believe that future improvements in medical practices and technology may not push the government or states into putting in place stricter or more controls on abortion but may help women preserve their abortion rights (Bradley, 650). The argument by proponents of this idea is that future technology will allow for better ways of terminating pregnancies such as abortion pills that would allow women to perform abortions from the comfort of their homes and would only need to consult a doctor on a computer. While this claim is valid, it does not present the whole picture of how abortion will play out in the future. Proponents of the above claim fail to understand that although the pills may work as planned, there is no guarantee of the government or states such as Alabama, which has very restrictive policies on abortion, will make abortion legal. Therefore, the pills may bring access to abortion and not a right to abortion. What would actually happen is that with the coming of technology that will allow mothers to use abortion pills with guidance from a computer, technology used in examining fetal viability will also improve. As a result, the management of fetuses’ health will better, and the period of fetal viability will decrease. If a state law allowed abortion of up to 10 weeks, for instance, the period might reduce to six weeks. This situation is in itself a form of control on abortion with the period in which the government or a state allows abortion changing due to better technology.
Future medical and technological developments will result in more controls on abortion regulations by the government. Presently, U.S. federal law allows women to undergo abortions up to when the fetus is viable, after which women can only undergo abortion in specific cases such as when the mother’s life is at risk. In the future, better technology and medical advancements will allow for earlier fetal viability and incubation. As a result, there will be a shorter period in which one can do an abortion, hence more control and stricter policies by the government. In the future, it would be essential to research what other factors, apart from medical and technological progress, might come into play concerning the regulation of abortion by the government. For example, how might the growth of the internet affect future government regulations on abortion?
Alters, Sandra M. “U.S. Supreme Court decisions.” Abortion: An Eternal Social and Moral Issue. 2010 ed., Gale, 2010. Information Plus Reference Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library, https://link-galegroup-com.db11.linccweb.org/apps/pub/3BCD/GVRL?u=lincclin_hcc&sid=GVRL. Accessed 17 July 2019.
Benek, Christopher. “How Technology Could End the Abortion Debate.” Vice, VICE, 15 Dec. 2015, www.vice.com/en_us/article/pgkdaz/how-technology-could-end-the-abortion-debate.
Bradley, Gerard V. “The Future of Abortion Law in the United States.” National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4, Winter, 2016, pp. 633–653. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=122427111&site=eds-live.
Brown, Kristen V. “How New Technology Could Threaten a Woman’s Right to Abortion.” Gizmodo, Gizmodo, 28 July 2017, gizmodo.com/how-new-technology-could-threaten-a-womans-right-to-abo-1797339090.
May, Ashley. “Mom Pleads with Doctor to Resuscitate Baby Delivered at 21 Weeks. ‘Miracle’ Daughter Is Now a Healthy Toddler.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 14 Nov. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/11/14/mom-delivers-earliest-premature-baby-ever-and-chooses-resuscitate-miracle-aughter-now-healthy-toddle/861386001/.
Rennie, Janet, and Bokhari, S. A. “Recent advances in neonatology.” Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition 81.1 (1999): F1-F4.
Rose, Melody. Abortion: A Documentary and Reference Guide : A Documentary and Reference Guide. Greenwood, 2008. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=221168&site=ehost-live.
Sietstra, Cari. “The Future of Abortion.” New York Times, 12 May 2019, p. 5(L). Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.db11.linccweb.org/apps/doc/A585131301/AONE?u=lincclin_hcc&sid=AONE&xid=6cb52b76. Accessed 17 July 2019.