Staunch anti-abortion and pro-life advocates’ impulsive reaction to this question might be an astounded, “Is that even a question?!”
Pro-life activism surrounds me with a diversity of peers sympathetic to the anti-abortion cause, a majority whom would respond with a resounding no, incredulous at such an absurd and unnecessary question: all abortions, regardless of gestation period, are equally immoral in that they all tragically end a human life.
Sarah (a pseudonym for privacy reasons), a working graduate student in Chicago, agrees, “I think that all abortion, at any point, is a tragic event and equally destructive to the life it is taking.”
Both answers are controversial to one who is staunchly pro-choice through the first trimester alone.
To come to Sarah's and Edmund’s conclusions, one must first recognize this sensitive question’s initial complexities. Addressing these complexities can unearth revealing questions and conclusions on the moral nature of abortion.
Some of the most common reasons cited for why late term abortion is (morally) worse than earlier term abortion:
The unborn child could have a viable life outside of the womb.
Does the point of viability (20-24 weeks gestation) of life outside the womb increase or serve to grant the intrinsic human value of the unborn? Or does the cumulative time spent developing in the womb play a role in value determination; is a 22 week old unborn baby less valuable than a 32 week old unborn baby? Despite having spent less time in the womb, if the 22 week old baby were born premature would their value now surpass that of the 32 week old unborn baby?
Do the stages of one’s natural human development, with their innate levels & modes of life nurturing dependency, sufficiently determine the value of one’s life? If so, then a newborn child’s life is far less valuable than the life of a 65 year old adult.
At approximately 20 weeks, the unborn child can feel pain
Is the ability to feel pain sufficient or necessary to increase or determine the value of human life? If pain-capable unborn babies were anesthetized prior to being aborted, is the abortion now less immoral? Are people with congenital insensitivity to pain less valuable than you or I?
The maternal bond to the unborn child may be stronger later in pregnancy.
I believe there are always at least two victims in an abortion procedure- the woman who has lost motherhood and her dead child.
Prior to entering a genuinely wholesome healing process, a late term abortion could initially prove to be instrumentally more damaging to a woman’s psyche and emotional health than an early term abortion might be. Rosalind, a recent university graduate, agrees that “abortion is more traumatizing for the mother in the later term.”
A woman who regrets and mourns the late term abortion of her child may feel more intense pain, suffering, and complex guilt than she might have after an early term abortion. Knowing her child could feel the pain of the abortion or that he/she might have lived outside her womb, her pained thoughts blatantly magnify the humanity of her aborted child, instrumentally contributing to a more burdensome grieving process. (This does not discount the unimaginably painful mourning and regret a woman might go through after an early term abortion.)
However, the aborted child is equally damaged in both early and late term abortions- which leads me to my next point…
Late term abortion procedures are visually and descriptively more graphic than earlier term procedures.
In a world where murdering a born and innocent human is legal if their existence is undesirable to an acquaintance, friend, or family member, a man is faced with two options to murder his victim:
Shoot them in the head. This is a time-efficient, simple, and requires little technique, equipment, technology, or clean-up. It is the most direct route to achieving the end goal: death.
While the victim is still alive and conscious, inflict them with third degree burns; one-by-one cut off their fingers and toes. By purposefully avoiding harming any vital organs, the murderer has forced his victim to endure a slow and excruciatingly painful death.
If I lived in this hypothetical world and were forced to even view either murder, it would be easier for me to see option #1. It aims for minimal physical and emotional suffering over time. Option number two aims to create & sustain over time unnecessary pain & suffering that goes far beyond what is sufficient for achieving the victim’s death. Naturally, I am not trying to imply or to prove that shooting someone in the head is somehow okay because it is a simplistic and quick murder. Taking an innocent human life is never okay. Both murder options are intrinsically evil. However, when compared, option #2 is instrumentally more evil than option #1.
The two options above and abortion have something in common: their end goal is to legally end an innocent human life. (Unfortunately, legal abortion is a reality.) Option #2 and late term abortion are both visually graphic, deliberate, dismemberment of an organism that is clearly a living and pain-capable human being. The feelings evoked by late term abortion are uncomfortably similar to how I felt about option #2.
Personal judgements on the moral nature of things, in this case late v. earlier term abortion, are often based on our perceptions and reactionary emotions. The graphic visuals and descriptions of late term abortion not only stimulate uncomfortable emotional & moral conflict, but can instrumentally influence our perception and subsequent judgement that late term abortion is just clearly more immoral than early term abortion. It is vital to not allow our emotions and perceptions to influence our judgements without first examining our logic. I am guilty of this- I think it is perhaps a subconscious process.
The various techniques employed in both early and late term abortions all involve the abortionist performing the bare minimum necessary to achieve “fetal demise”. Going back to option #2, the murderer went out of his way to create and ensure sustained pain and suffering over time, making his actions instrumentally worse than option #1. His technique was determined by his desire to create pain and suffering in addition to death.
Abortion techniques are determined according to gestational period- not by the desire to intentionally create more unnecessary pain and suffering. For example, it is impossible for a 24 week old baby to be neatly vacuum suctioned into a jar. The child is too large. The abortionist’s next best and only options are the tearing off of the child’s limbs or induced heart attack and stillbirth. (Saline abortions are outdated.) Vice versa, it would be entirely impractical (but no more immoral) for an abortionist perform late term abortion techniques on a 12 week old baby. The most practical option to end the 12 week old unborn’s life is through vacuum suction and curettage or RU-486.
Regardless of how one differently perceives various abortion techniques, application of one technique versus another can not alter the moral nature of an abortion. Period.
Late term abortion technique magnifies the humanity of the unborn, inevitably altering our initial perception.
In Wendy Simonds’, Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic, an abortion clinic worker comments,
“There’s lots of days when it’s really, really hard… I don’t know what makes it so much harder at twenty-six weeks than at thirteen weeks. I don’t know what makes handling the tissue so much harder….
For me, there’s a lot of probably some hidden guilt that I’m not willing to look at about my adoption. That could have been me. You know, had my natural mother had access to abortion, this easily could have been me. And when you’re, you know, putting a fetus’s feet in over its head in a baggie, there’s just that brief moment of ‘this could have been me,’ which I fundamentally believe is okay. She should have had a right to choose that, and I, being a religious person, believe that things happen for a reason…
It’s much more difficult when you see a twenty-six week face.” (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996)
Is late term abortion worse for the unborn because of the way it makes us feel?