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Giving

NOVEMBER 2014

It's time to rethink our attitude to abortion

“Clinging on to old ideas would be a mistake”


A premature baby who was given little chance of survival when he was born at 23 weeks has celebrated his first birthday.  His parents, Sylvia and Thomas Moore, were told to prepare for a stillbirth after Sylvia’s waters broke 22 weeks into her pregnancy. Lucas Moore weighed just 1lb 1oz at birth but, after four months in intensive care, he was strong enough to go home and has suffered no significant long-term health problems. Apart from being a few months behind in his development, Lucas celebrated his first birthday in good health.


Research has shown that, with the help of specialist neonatal wards, the majority of babies born at 23 weeks survive.1   In 2006 just 19 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks survived, according to one study. Last year, in specialist units like North Bristol’s, all those fetuses born at 23 weeks survived.  This information motivates some human rights campaigners to argue that the abortion limit should be lowered to at least 20 weeks. 


However, writing in the Telegraph, James Mumford suggests that it is a mistake to press for this change.  He argues that, “to press for 20 weeks would be to accept the premise that viability is what should ground the right to life. It would to be to click the ‘Accept’ button confirming the terms and conditions of the debate, rather than questioning the entire way it has been framed since 1967.”  


In 1967 lawmakers opted to protect human life only at the point in which the fetus was “capable of being born alive.”  James Mumford challenges this notion of viability, arguing that it constitutes a profound category mistake.  “Why should being capable of being born alive – being able to survive the onset of breathing and oral feeding – be the make-or-break threshold?”


He concludes, “But if not viability, then what? Controversial philosophers like the Australian Peter Singer have concluded the threshold must be pushed forward, beyond birth, to the moment when newborns show signs of self-consciousness (which he dates at "perhaps a month"). Rather than justify infanticide, it seems more reasonable to go backwards not forwards. But could that ever really be done? Certainly not by changing the law overnight. Social reform in this area would require rethinking our whole attitude to the unborn. It would require love, courage and community – not beyond the bounds of possibility.” 2






1 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11147674/Thriving-a-year-on-the-boy-born-a-week-under-abortion-limit.html


2 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/11085188/Its-time-to-rethink-our-attitude-to-abortion.html

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