Abortion has been a major issue since the beginning of humankind (Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon). Females and males have fought over who has rights to the contents of a uterus. Here, I will dig deeper into the many issues involved, but at the top level consider the following:
- Males in general consider their sperm to be sacrosanct and are anti-abortion. They want more heirs, an increased army, an increased workforce, or more slaves. Remember that until the modern era newborns and young children suffered very high death rates (infant mortality) and increasing a population was a slow process.
- Females have a more pragmatic view beyond control over their own bodies and are generally pro-abortion (although some feminists are strongly anti-abortion). The female concerns include male protection and support, economic circumstances, enough food available to raise a child, and in the modern age a “shame factor”.
There is no doubt in my mind that the female pro-abortion view is paramount! Who am I to determine what a woman should or should not do with her body over a nine-month period? That being said, I will briefly explore some history leading up to the current intense controversy in the United States.
But first, let us agree on a few facts of physiology and medicine.
Normal pregnancy lasts for about 280 days or 40 weeks (‘9+ months’) as measured from the last menstrual cycle. A ‘preterm’ or premature baby (‘preemie’) is delivered before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Extremely preterm infants are delivered 23 through 28 weeks with a low chance of survival and a very high risk of long-term abnormality.
- During intercourse, sperm from the male make a long journey through the uterus perhaps as far as the Fallopian tube where one of them encounters and enters a female ovum. If all goes well the fertilized ovum descends to the uterus where it implants on the wall and ‘embryogenesis’ begins.
- Occasionally, a fertilized ovum exits from the Fallopian tube into the peritoneal cavity where it begins to develop as an ‘ectopic’ pregnancy. This is a disaster for both mother and embryo since normal development and birth are impossible and neither will survive. This situation requires medical intervention upon detection.
- “Abortion” is not an applicable term in this case! It is a “Medical Disaster”.
- After implantation in the uterus, the ‘embryo’ induces the development of a ‘placenta’ and begins to grow into a ‘fetus’. Maternal hormonal changes may become noticeable at 15 weeks (105 days, 3.25 months) after fertilization and a normal menstrual cycle will have ceased. Many women may not recognize that their menstrual cycle has been interrupted at this early stage, especially if they have irregular cycles or occasional missed cycles for various reasons (for example, stress or malnourishment – a not uncommon situation for most of the world, and much of the disadvantaged US population).
- Thanks to the miracles of modern medical technology (available to the advantaged few in the US), a fetal ‘heartbeat’ may be detected as early as 6-10 weeks but be aware that this is not really a heartbeat as we think of it in our adult life. It is, rather, just a detectable electronic activity of a few cells which will eventually become the heart’s pacemaker. At 10 weeks, the fetus is ~1.25 inches (3.1 cm) in length. The so-called heartbeat is NOT detectable with a stethoscope!
- AND HEREIN LIES THE HUGE AMOUNT OF CONTROVERSY! AT THIS STAGE OF FETAL DEVELOPMENT, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT ‘ELECTRICAL ACTIVITY’ NOT ‘HEARTBEAT’!
- The terms are NOT synonymous!
- At 20 weeks (140 days, 5 months) to 24 weeks (168 days), the mother may become aware of ‘fetal’ movement within her uterus. The fetus is now about 10 inches (25 cm) in length, weighs about 12 ounces (330 gm), and is becoming active. This is known in the older literature as ‘quickening’, a term which has considerable significance as we shall see.
- At 20 weeks (12 ounces, 330 grams) the fetus has a 0% survival chance outside the uterus.
- At 22 weeks the fetus has a 0.1% survival chance outside the uterus.
- At 24 weeks a well-nourished mother may have a fetus measuring 12.5 inches (32 cm) in length and weighing 1.5 lb (670 gm). With intensive medical care a fetus delivered at this time has a 60% chance of survival, but certainly it will suffer significant developmental problems. Lungs are not yet developed and medical science cannot yet replicate a uterine environment promoting proper fetal development.
- It is not until 28 weeks that the fetus has a good chance of survival, albeit with potential post-natal developmental problems resulting from incomplete lung development.
- Miscarriages (spontaneous abortions) are common in the first trimester (12 weeks) and may occur up to 20 weeks. Various estimates place the overall number of miscarriages at 20 – 50% of all pregnancies. Most causes of miscarriage are associated with abnormal fetal development resulting from chromosomal aberrations as cells divide and multiply.
From the moment of “conception” (when a sperm enters an ovum as fundamentalists might characterize it), just about anything can and will go wrong. There is a certain ‘natural magic’ in “conception” but there is nothing determinative about it. Cell division is key here and it is not a perfect process! By week 20, the initial two (2) cells have divided many, many times to become 1.3 x 1010 cells (13,000,000,000). At birth, the number of cells is estimated to be 1.25 X 1012.
One sperm and one ovum do NOT guarantee a perfect birth nine months later. This is why in vitro fertilization clinicians will implant multiple fertilized eggs at a time in the hope that at least one will result in a successful pregnancy. Sometimes we read about women having triplets or more. It is not news when, frequently, the process is a failure.
So. What does history have to say on the subject of abortion?
In one way not much (history was written mainly by men), and in another way a great deal.
First, the use of herbal agents (“abortifacients”) to induce abortion is recorded in all the earliest medical texts we have available.
We can conclude that their use is age old, either according to law or outside the law. And further we can assume that this is part and parcel of female lore. The recommended herbs are numerous, diverse, and sometimes deadly!
Frequently, their use was directed towards what was euphemistically referred to as ‘regularizing the menstrual cycle or courses’ after a few ‘missed’ menstrual periods.
Even Benjamin Franklin wrote on the subject and provided recipes and advice for ‘regularizing the courses’! This was considered normal and unremarkable at the time.
Regardless of laws and mores, the means have always been there. If you are interested in this subject simply google “natural abortifacients”. Nowadays we have “RU-486”, of which I have some pharmaceutical knowledge.
Second, what religion has to say or not say on the subject is quite interesting.
Despite what Christian Fundamentalists may say, the Judeo-Christian texts do not address the issue other than obliquely. The New Testament does not mention abortion at all. The Old Testament offers a few vague references about the rights of men to the contents of a women’s womb and compensation for loss of such. In Islamic law, reference is made to ‘ensoulment’ (which may range from 3 months to 7 months, depending on the scholar), after which abortion becomes illegal except in certain circumstances (health and well-being of the mother). Eastern religions (Hindu, Buddhism, Tao, Shinto, etc.) being focused on the sanctity of life are fairly much against abortion, although their scholars use the usual weasel language about moral exceptions and women’s health.
Third, Ancient Law is all over the map on the subject of abortion dating as far back as the Code of Hammurabi.
I will not regale you with a lengthy analysis. Suffice it to say, until recently the focus was on compensation for a loss by the man (sire) “for if a man strike a woman and she loses her child then…”.
I have yet to find any specific remedies towards a woman who aborts herself, but a person who aided her in the effort was subject to penalty. I find this distinction rather peculiar, but perhaps pragmatic. Do you kill the woman who has aborted your child? Lock her up for 20 years? What?
Fourth, and here we get into it, Modern Law is a morass of idiotic ideas.
Mainly promulgated by Old White Retards (OWRs) and their adherents (male and female) in the various states of our un-united country.
Bear in mind that many, if not most, modern countries consider 24 weeks (’quickening’) to be the critical time point at which abortion is deemed legal, or illegal (unless for medical necessity).
Following the strike-down of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court some States have activated or initiated very restrictive anti-abortion laws. Texas is a prime example of a law (which went into effect 25 August 2022) that prohibits abortion after “electric embryonic cardiac activity can be detected”. You may recall from above that this could be as early as 6-10 weeks after fertilization of the ovum, and we do not yet apply the term “fetus”.
So, this leads to numerous issues that the OWRs have failed to address or think through:
- Do they really mean “can be detected” or do they mean “could be detected”?
- Who does the assessment of ‘electric activity’ and when? Is the necessary high-tech equipment generally available and accessible to all women?
- No woman could know for sure that she is pregnant before 6 weeks following her last menstrual period, so this is an outright abortion ban for all but the rich who can afford to travel to another State.
- Remember that OWRs are, in general, white supremacists and very fearful of losing their racial majority. So, what have they accomplished through their slave-owning mentality (recall or know that Texas was a slave state, and the last to free slaves which is why we celebrate Juneteenth!)?
- Affluent women (mainly white) will travel to wherever to obtain an abortion from a qualified medical professional – not so many white children?
- Less affluent women (dare I say black, brown, Hispanic, Asian, native American) will seek back-alley abortionists – or bear their children to term resulting in an increase in their respective populations!
- Perhaps an unintended consequence of OWRs not thinking things through?
- Being somewhat schooled in the art of logical thinking, I see the major flaws in OWR thinking as follows:
- The proposed and/or enacted legislation imposes severe penalties on any and all who might provide support, advice, facilities, and drugs to woman who may be seeking to induce abortion. However, such legislation does not and cannot address the issue of readily available knowledge regarding the age-old treatments/remedies/herbs of lore. Any effort in this respect would require closing libraries, shutting down the internet, and uprooting many gardens to remove offending plants.
- Watch out! Perhaps this is where they are eventually headed? Just this week (September) there is some furor about a small Idaho community library having to close in response to OWR thinking.
- So far, OWRs have avoided the issue of what to do with the woman herself (if you have read any of the above you will know that this is nothing new!). Does a husband seek the Death Penalty for a wife who has aborted?
- Just suppose a nosy neighbor sees a pregnant (visibly, or invisibly so) woman gathering herbal materials considered to be ‘abortifacients’ and reports the incident to the ‘anti-abortion’ police (Texas Law encourages and rewards such a practice in a way). What to do?
Imagine locking up a woman for 7 – 9 months in order to prevent her access to ‘abortifacients’. Does the OWR State provide medical care for mother and fetus during this period? How about Lamaze training and post-natal care? Are OWRs ready for the potential costs resulting from their logic?
Never stop short when you are embarked on a supposedly logical path. You may regret the outcome.
One of my reviewing editors tasked me with the issue of addressing the fundamentalist idea that human life begins at the moment of “conception” and, therefore, any and all abortions are illegal. The task is ‘Sisyphean’ since logic rarely prevails over belief.
Nevertheless, with reference to all the above, I will remind the reader that “conception” is a haphazard event which has about a 50% success rate. Many things can and do go wrong during pregnancy. Miscarriages (“abortions”) occur as a consequence of natural processes eliminating some of ‘nature’s mistakes’.
In essence, most abortion is a natural process that occurs without any human intervention!
See: Health Serv Res Manag Epidemiol. 2020 Jan-Dec; 7: 2333392820949743.
Published online 2020 Aug 18. doi: 10.1177/2333392820949743
“Black women have been experiencing induced abortions at a rate nearly 4 times that of White women for at least 3 decades, and likely much longer. The impact in years of potential life lost, given abortion’s high incidence and racially skewed distribution, indicates that it is the most demographically consequential occurrence for the minority population.”
“It is also important to note that 5 states that did not report race-specific abortion data (or no data at all in the case of California) to the CDC (California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois) account for fully half of all U.S. abortions and a third of all Black women of child bearing age.”
I leave it to the reader to arrive at the obvious consequence of the new Texas law prototype.