The Bogeyman Of The 38-Week Abortion

In conversations about abortion, I keep on seeing interactions like this one:

A screenshot of several tweets between @jackmurphylive and @LeahNTorres.  First: @Jackmurphylive "@LeahNTorres you still can't answer me: 38 week abortion ok for you? Based on feels?". First reply  by Lean Torres is: "You view pregnant people as expendable objects, not as people. I doubt you'd value any answer I give.". Jack's next reply: "Your avoidance tells all. It's okay to misspeak, but retract and move on.". Leah'a final reply: "Is this 38 week baby going to suffer after being born, @Jackmurphylive? Is an abortion more humane than birth?"

When it comes to abortion, it seems like a certain number of anti-abortionists operate under quite a startling misunderstanding about what it actually is.

It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? Especially since the same people tend to spend a lot of time salivating over graphic descriptions of (what they imagine) abortion to entail. None of which, by the way, involve someone who’s a handful of weeks pregnant taking a few pills over a few days, chasing them with some painkillers and curling up on the sofa with a hot water bottle for a day or so.

I’m sure when these people picture abortions and the people they have them, they imagine someone who can’t wait to tear apart the foetus growing inside them. It’s all about violence. It’s never about context: who the pregnant person is, what they want or need, and why.

Abortion isn’t about killing a foetus

This is something that people find incredibly difficult to grasp. If you think about it, though? Killing foetuses isn’t what abortion is about at all.

It’s about someone who is pregnant wanting or needing, for whatever reason, not to be. Maybe they never wanted to be pregnant in the first place, or their circumstances mean that parenting would be a terrible idea. It’s not about the foetus. It’s about the pregnant person.

Or maybe someone wanted to be pregnant, but it turns out that the foetus wouldn’t survive birth, or would damage the pregnant person’s health severely (or risk their life). Again, this isn’t about killing a foetus. It’s about making the best decision possible, saving someone’s life/health, or preventing needless suffering and pain.

I can’t think of a single instance where a pregnant person thinks “y’know what? I would love to kill a foetus today, and it just so happens that I have one handy”. That doesn’t happen. (Also, I’m pretty sure that a person who did that might be better off not being someone’s parent. Just saying)

What’s a 38 week abortion?

You know what we call abortion at 38 weeks?

Birth.

If you’ve figured out that abortion has nothing to do with killing foetuses, this makes perfect sense. If you’re 38 weeks pregnant and you want/need not to be, then that baby is generally perfectly capable of surviving outside in the world. Sure, someone’s going to need to take care of them. But at this stage, it doesn’t matter for their survival if that someone is their birth or adoptive parents.

If the 38 week old fetus isn’t capable of surviving in the world? That happens. And it’s probably going to be one of the worst times in a family’s life. The decisions that they make around that should be treated with the dignity they deserve.

Context, context, context

If you don’t think about context, it’s easy to see absolute decriminalisation of abortion (making it free, safe and legal for everyone who wants/needs it) leading to horror-movie scenarios of 38-week pregnant women killing their fetuses ’cause they simply couldn’t be bothered to wait another few weeks to have the baby. Or ’cause 8.5 months in, they changed their minds.

This is as insulting as it is absurd.

We know that where it’s legal, 90% of abortions happen in the first 12-13 weeks of pregnancy. We also, by the way, know that in countries like Ireland where abortion is illegal, they tend to be delayed by a fortnight or so. More, if the pregnant person has to deal with visas as well as raising funds. Even so, we know that less than 1% of abortions happen after 20 weeks. We know that when this happens, it’s almost always because of a grave risk to the life/health of the pregnant person, or because the fetus isn’t going to survive birth.

Knowing all of this, don’t 38-week scare stories seem ridiculous? Doesn’t it seem less like a genuine concern than a deliberate attempt to turn people who have abortions into monsters? Doesn’t it feel badly tainted with stereotypes of emotional, unreliable, hysterical women who need someone rational to tell someone what they really want or need?

Doesn’t it just?

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The Bogeyman Of The 38-Week Abortion
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19 thoughts on “The Bogeyman Of The 38-Week Abortion

  1. 1

    Oh god, I hate nothing more than the “Slutty McSlut and the 8 months, 3 weeks and 6 days abortion” tale. The most irresponsible of all irresponsible women who apparently enjoys waiting until the last possible minute to get an abortion in the most gruesome way, because that’s fun, right?
    I talked to a lot of people who had late term abortions. Their tales are horrible, harrowing, sad. Those people usually don’t want to have an abortion, but they’re making a loving choice because they want to spare their child pain and suffering. to go after them is the lowest of low.

    1. 1.1

      Exactly. On all counts.

      Also, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what pregnancy is actually like. Of course, never having been pregnant myself I can’t exactly speak to it entirely. BUT I am at the very least aware that it’s generally intense, uncomfortable, and hard work. Not the kind of thing you could do for 8.5 months without noticing, right?

  2. 2

    Yeah, it’s always slutty mcslut and never “your fetus appears to have spina bifida, what do you want to do?” Because some controlling asshole wants to manipulate another person’s behavior, they’ll throw all the painful decisions and agonizing choices under the bus.

  3. Pen
    3

    There are quite a number of induced births or cesareans at 38 weeks or even a little earlier. Many are done to save the baby as much as because of the health of the mother. It’s odd to think of the more fanatical ‘pro-lifers’ trying to shut down that option.

    Michelle Duggar, that no doubt very pro-life Quiverfull woman, had a pregnancy terminated at 25 weeks. Yes, it’s still a pregnancy termination when it’s an emergency c-section made in the hope of saving the baby. The mother had pre-eclampsia I think.

    Terminating a healthy pregnancy in the 3rd trimester then deliberately killing the baby does not happen.

  4. ema
    4

    “Knowing all of this, don’t 38-week scare stories seem ridiculous?”

    That’s all they are, scare stories. There’s no such thing as a 38-wk elective termination. At that EGA the risks outweigh the benefits.

    Also, anyone asking the “38 week abortion ok for you?” should have to offer a reality-based explanation of why it’s OK to trust pregnant patients carrying to term to make their own medical decisions but not patients who want to terminate.

    1. 4.1

      Actually, here in Ireland we don’t trust pregnant patients carrying to term to make their own decisions either. There have been a bunch of cases where pregnant people were forced to undergo procedures that they hadn’t consented to (such as being induced at a time they hadn’t agreed to). Because the fetus is considered legally equal to the pregnant person, doctors can pretty much do what they like with/to a pregnant person as long as they can justify it with being for the sake of the baby.

      Ireland is a scary place to be pregnant.

  5. 5

    “Hmm I seem to have a pregnancy that I don’t want, what shall I do… I know! I’ll let it, and all the associated health complications and inconveniences, continue for eight months because we libruls are capricious like that!”
    – typical anti-abortion view of unwilling mothers-to-be.

  6. 6

    To answer the question “doesn’t it just,” I respond “hasn’t it always?”

    I do have to credit you for showing me the misogyny behind anti choice. I went for a spell falling into the trap where I thought “maybe they think foetus’ are babies” which, of course, implies the pregnant person just, like, doesn’t exist or something.

  7. ema
    7

    “There have been a bunch of cases where pregnant people were forced to undergo procedures that they hadn’t consented to…”

    That is unsettling. Although not much, in the States you need a court order to override refusal to consent.

    1. 7.1

      Which is too often happily granted when a precious fetus is concerned. Forced C-sections, even if they kill the pregnant person, etc. Not to mention mandatory vaginal ultrasounds or involuntary drug tests*.

      *Don’t you have an amnedment that says you don’T have to provide evidence against yourself?

  8. 8

    And, ya know how you write the laws to stop the mythical 38-week abortion? Simple. You say that, if the fetus is likely to survive, and doing so does not pose an undue health risk to the mother, you are required to induce labor rather than terminate the pregnancy by killing the fetus. Easy peasy.

    In fact, even if you restricted “on demand” second-trimester abortions (that would be about 15 weeks along, I think), you would still have a better situation for the women of Ireland, and very few cases of women who want or need abortions and can’t have one.

    1. 8.1

      As a practical matter this seems reasonable. As a matter of principle I’m not sure how compatible it is with bodily autonomy. Firstly, I don’t know – and would be very interested to see data if anyone has it – whether there’s a point even late in a pregnancy where inducing labour poses less of a risk to the pregnant person’s health than an abortion. Secondly, if you grant that it would actually be safer, isn’t it still up to the person facing a medical procedure to decide which procedure is in their interests? Doesn’t someone normally have the right to choose a treatment with a higher risk if for whatever reason it’s what they want?

      It seems to me very dangerous to cede abortion as an exception to this, if I’m not mistaken about how other procedures are handled. It may be justifiable as a compromise (unlikely to come up often) or as harm reduction, but it should be recognized as such.

      1. At 38 weeks, most people agree that the fetus is at least *close* to the moral equivalent of an already-born infant. So while the mother’s bodily autonomy should allow her to dictate whether or not to, eg, have a C-section, or what procedure to use if the fetus, eg, doesn’t have a brain, personally I’m willing to take “deliberately kill the fetus” off the table if it doesn’t pose a substantially higher risk than labor and the fetus is likely to survive birth. Because while it is a balancing act that should be *heavily* weighed towards the rights of the mother, it *is* a balancing act.

  9. 9

    whether there’s a point even late in a pregnancy where inducing labour poses less of a risk to the pregnant person’s health than an abortion.

    Inducing labor terminates a pregnancy.

    Therefore, labor induction at 38 weeks is abortion.

    Therefore your question is nonsensical. Is abortion safer than abortion? Is labor induction safer than labor induction?

    if you grant that it would actually be safer, isn’t it still up to the person facing a medical procedure to decide which procedure is in their interests? Doesn’t someone normally have the right to choose a treatment with a higher risk if for whatever reason it’s what they want?

    Only up to a point. But medical ethics, not the law, is usually what constrains people from choosing to, say, amputate a healthy limb, or get chemotherapy for the common cold. There’s no need to assume that medical ethics and basic human decency suddenly fly out the window when pregnant people are involved.

    1. 9.1

      I confess upfront I find this response confusing. I get the impression you may think I’m coming at this from the opposite angle to which I actually am.

      Therefore your question is nonsensical. Is abortion safer than abortion?

      Okay, substitute “any other method of abortion” for “abortion” in the part you quote. I thought that was already clearly implicit. Or is your point that labour induction is the method for terminating a pregnancy at this point, with no alternatives?

      There’s no need to assume that medical ethics and basic human decency suddenly fly out the window when pregnant people are involved.

      I agree with that statement as written, but I’m not sure what you mean by it. My concern is that Melissa Trible is talking about laws mandating certain medical procedures and forbidding others. To me it seems dangerous to concede that this is okay to do for abortion when it wouldn’t be okay for other medical issues. What’s the assumption you read me as making?

        1. That usage is sufficiently unfamiliar to me that I’d better bow out rather than generate further confusion trying to navigate a terminological minefield tangential to the point I was trying to make. I would genuinely appreciate a link to a resource explaining it, though.

      1. Ok. I think the US, at least initially, made a reasonable compromise on the issue (maybe not the best explicit justification for such compromise, but a reasonable compromise). Basically, first trimester? The fetus doesn’t get any rights that the pregnant woman doesn’t chose to give it. It’s not a person yet. I’m not entirely clear on where things stand in the second trimester (I think states can restrict abortion, but have to allow it for things like maternal health). Third trimester, the fetus gets some rights, because it’s a person (or at least close to being a person), at that point. So, though the mother still gets to make most of the choices, one subset of choices (deliberately killing the fetus) is basically only allowed in extreme cases (eg where she’ll die if she gives birth, or where the fetus likely won’t survive birth).

        And I’m OK with that. As long as there are reasonable exceptions made in cases where the mother’s life is at risk or the like, I’m OK with saying “You had your chance to terminate the pregnancy earlier by any generally legal method, at this point you can only terminate it by giving birth one way or another.”

        Now, of course, the dip-s***s in the religious right are trying to nibble away at that legality (which is especially stupid because *making it illegal doesn’t significantly change the abortion rate*, but that’s another discussion). But I think Roe v Wade itself was… a reasonable balance of the rights of the pregnant woman and the rights of her fetus.

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