Initiative 120 would prohibit abortion after 22 weeks gestation except to save the life of the mother. After an ambitious, six-month grass roots effort to obtain the necessary signatures, it now appears headed for the ballot in November.
Abortion politics is always contentious. As Coloradans weigh the pros/cons of passing Initiative 120 in the coming months, the best way to debate such a controversial topic is to rely on science. We should vociferously avoid the manipulation of language to distort the facts and established science.
Abortion-rights activists would have you believe that science can’t answer the question, “When does human life begin?” Human embryology long ago established the fact that human life begins at fertilization and that human development is a seamless process that continues for years after birth. This is standard teaching in every embryology textbook in medical schools across the country. It should be no surprise that in a recent survey of over 5,300 biology scientists (85% self-identifying as pro-choice), 96% affirmed the view that human life begins at fertilization.
Abortion-rights supporters and abortion clinics go to great lengths to obfuscate the fact that abortion is a violent procedure that kills a human life. They don’t even like to use the term abortion and prefer “termination of pregnancy” as if the termination did not entail the destruction of a human being. The New York Times has referred to the fetus as a “cluster of cells.” When Planned Parenthood of the Rockies describes a second trimester dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure on their website, it reports that they “gently take the pregnancy tissue out of your uterus." A more medically accurate description would reflect the fact that the cervix is dilated so that instruments to grasp the fetal limbs can be introduced. After the systematic disarticulation and dismemberment of the human fetus, they crush the head so that it can be easily extracted. They then reassemble the “products of conception” (fetal parts) to be sure they have not left an appendage in the uterus.
Abortion proponents cling to the fantasy that the abortion procedure is really a humane form of killing. They cite an outdated 2005 review by abortion-rights proponents that a fetus can’t feel pain until the third trimester, when the human cortex is sufficiently developed to perceive pain. However, there is a growing international consensus using anatomical studies, observations of arousability, hormonal stress/pain responses, studies of fetal behavior, near-infrared spectroscopy, electroencephalography, and functional MRI, that a human fetus can not only react to, but also appreciate, pain by the 22nd to 24th week. It probably can feel pain more intensely than an infant or adult. This is because the pain neuroinhibitory pathways develop later in fetal life so there is nothing to damp down the pain experience. Even when the fetus is killed prior to the abortion procedure (which is more common the later the gestational age), the injection of the poison (potassium chloride or digoxin) can be anticipated to produce profound suffering before the fetus dies over a period of minutes to hours.
For Initiative 120, 22 weeks was selected because national polling would suggest that there is broad consensus that late abortion should be restricted. There is no meaningful biologic difference between a baby born at 22 weeks gestation and a 22-week fetus — other than location. Our Constitution never predicated the fundamental right to life on location.
A 22-week fetus is a vital human being. Many people are unaware that a fetus as young as 21 weeks can survive with good neurodevelopmental outcomes. In some centers, 70% of fetuses born at 22 weeks survive. A mother can feel her 22-week fetus kick. The fetus can hear her mother’s voice and respond to her touch. A 22-week fetus can undergo curative surgeries as an independent patient for anatomic congenital abnormalities.
Another fact that you won’t hear from abortion providers is that late abortions are not safe. Although first trimester abortions pose minimal risks to women, late abortions are associated with substantial risk. For each additional week of gestational age, the risk of death increases by 38%. To put this in perspective, there is a much higher risk of death from abortion after 20 weeks than virtually every other out-patient surgical procedure.
As Coloradans assess Initiative 120, it is time we avoid spin and embrace science in the abortion debate. We believe that Coloradans of every age, sex, religion (or no religion), and party affiliation, can agree that late abortion should be restricted. We also think that we can find common ground in Colorado pursuing both private and governmental programs that decrease the demand for abortion — making abortion unnecessary, if not unthinkable.
Thomas J. Perille, M.D., is president of the Colorado Chapter of Democrats for Life of America.