There's no good argument against the 20-week abortion limit

This will prove to be an unusual article here at Hot Air since I so rarely weigh in on the abortion issue, but some of the arguments currently making the rounds regarding a new bill limiting abortions to 20 weeks have been pushing my buttons. One example of this came out at the Washington Post this weekend in the form of a heartrending personal tale of tragedy from Rebecca Cohen. A married woman with two children, excitedly expecting her third, she ran into some of the worst news possible during a visit to her OB/GYN.

At 20 weeks, my husband and I went for our favorite prenatal visit: the detailed ultrasound anatomy scan that shows your baby’s heart, kidneys, bladder, stomach, spine and brain and whether you’re having a girl or a boy. I could barely contain myself as I sat on the exam table, eager to meet our baby more intimately. My husband and I chit-chatted with the ultrasound technician, gabbing and laughing when we recognized familiar features on the ultrasound images.

But after five minutes, only my husband and I were talking. The technician had grown quiet. She just kept printing picture after picture and pressing the wand deeper into the gel on my stomach.

My husband and I reached for each other’s hands. We asked the technician if everything was all right, and she said we should wait for a doctor to talk to us. When the OB/GYN entered, I remember asking point-blank, “Is there a chance our child will be okay?” He responded kindly, softly and unequivocally: “No.”

They would find out that their baby’s brain had been completely destroyed except for the brain stem so other organs were functional in utero, but the doctor informed her that the baby either wouldn’t go to term or would die shortly after delivery. For some reason she had a hard time scheduling a procedure so her abortion didn’t take place until the 21st week.

As I said, it’s a heartbreaking story and something no parent would want to go through. But at the end, the author uses her own example as a reason to say that there should be no 20 week limit on abortions. She cites statistics saying that fewer than 2% of abortions take place after 20 weeks anyway, many because of devastating medical situations like ours.

Right up front, as much as I truly do sympathize with the tragedy that Mrs. Cohen endured, I have to say that you’d probably have to search long and hard across the country to come up with many people who fit into that mold… not precisely a sample size one would base legislation on. An incredibly rare condition arises which doesn’t kill the child in utero but will not allow it to live after birth and it’s only discovered at the 20 week mark even with the most thorough regimen of prenatal care. Horrible to be sure, but I’d be interested to see the number of similar cases which crop up each year.

She also mentions that “just more than 1 percent” of abortions are late term. That may be true, but the most recent statistics I saw from the CDC indicate that there were roughly 750K abortions in 2011. (The last year they’ve posted records for.) That’s somewhere between 7,500 and 15K late term abortions, some percentage of those being well beyond 20 weeks, assuming we accept those baseline numbers for a ballpark figure. (I’ve read some which range considerably higher.)

I’ll pause here a moment to circle back to the fact that I don’t write on this subject often and why I generally leave it to Ed. (Or Dustin Siggins when he chimes in here.) There’s a reason for that. I got out of the abortion debate after throwing up my arms years ago. After a lot of education, discussion and soul searching I came down at a position which fit in with nobody. To the pro-lifers I’m a baby killing monster while to the pro-choice crowd I’m a right wing tyrant who wants to keep all the wimminz knocked up and barefoot in the kitchen. It’s pretty much a no win situation. But I have strongly believed in many restrictions on the procedure to make it as rare as possible, and one of the core tenets I hold is that in the rare cases where it is done it needs to be done as soon as possible and well before any threshold of viability even with the advanced prenatal technology available today.

20 weeks is already far too late as far as I’m concerned, and the number of case out there such as Mrs. Cohen’s must be rare in the extreme. Perhaps an exception could be worked in for special cases like hers, but forgoing a 20 week limit just opens the door to too much horror such as we’ve seen in the Planned Parenthood videos. Her case was a tragedy, but it’s not sufficient grounds to abandon the rule altogether.