Opposing abortion after 20 weeks isn’t extreme. It’s logical.

Texas state senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) speaks on June 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Some believe that, except for … Continued


Texas state senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) speaks on June 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Some believe that, except for some religious groups, abortion is basically a settled matter in the United States. Last week reminded us that the gay marriage debate is all but over—especially for young people. Solid majorities still support Roe v. Wade. Isn’t it time to stop talking about an old culture war issue like abortion and move onto more modern and contested issues?

This view badly misunderstands American abortion politics. While a clear majority of Americans want abortion to be legal in some fashion, a solid majority also energetically support more restrictions. This has been reflected in state abortion legislation—which has been overwhelmingly in favor of abortion restrictions—and has several more restrictive bills in the pipeline. One of the few attempts to expand abortion access was recently defeated even in the liberal state of New York, where legislators rejected Governor Cuomo’s attempt to expand access to late term abortion.

The best known pending attempt to restrict abortion is in Texas. Last week, the Texas legislature moved to ban abortion after 20 weeks and to require all abortion facilities to offer women easier access to hospitals should the abortion go wrong. There were more than enough votes for passage, but a courageous young senator named Wendy Davis summoned the will to filibuster the bill for many hours. Though she required the hooting and hollering of a mob-like group in the gallery to temporarily shut down the vote in the last 20 minutes, her goal was achieved. The bill was passed a mere two minutes beyond the deadline.

Undeterred, supporters of the ban will use a second special session to try again to pass the bill, and that session begins today. It is unlikely that a filibuster will work this time around, and police will be better prepared to deal with those who would illegally try to shut down the legislative process.

So the bill will likely pass. This gives us occasion to ask what the country, more broadly, should think of banning abortion after 20 weeks. Appearing yesterday on This Week, Peggy Noonan claimed that Wendy Davis stood for “infanticide.” At first this might seem like an outrageous charge, but babies have survived outside the womb at 21 weeks, and as technology improves this threshold will go even lower. Does it make sense that killing a child outside the womb at 24 weeks is murder, but having an abortion at 24 weeks is a constitutionally protected right?

Most Americans do not think so. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal during weeks 13-24. And a whopping 80 percent believe it should be illegal after 24. Few know that women are more likely than men to think that abortion is wrong more generally, but it was reported last week that more women (50 percent) support the Texas 20 week ban than men (46 percent) nationwide. Texans of both sexes are overwhelming supportive of the ban.

Jamilia Bey, writing in the Washington Post, spoke for many pro-choice folks when she claimed that Texas was trying to “turn back the clock” on women’s rights. But those who view Europe as more progressive than the US might be surprised to learn that the proposed Texas law is rather tame by comparison. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Holland, and Sweden—just to name a few—restrict abortion to well before 20 weeks. Several draw the line at 12 weeks.

Texas will be no anomaly in passing this kind of law. Similar laws have been passed, and will continue to be passed, throughout the developed world. Extremists who want virtually no limits on abortion are out of step with the direction of public opinion, which favors abortion laws that are more like Europe. This is especially true of Millennials, only 37 percent of whom think abortion is morally acceptable. This makes them far more anti-abortion than were Baby Boomers or Gen Xers at their age.

We are in the midst of a sea change when it comes to views of abortion in the United States. The events in Texas this week are a good window into that change, but it is only the beginning.

Charles C. Camosy is Ast. Prof. of Christian Ethics at Fordham University. His For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action will be released on the feast of St. Francis this October. His current book project is tentatively titled Abortion: a Way Forward.

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  • Mom2Kids2

    Opinions change as life experiences influence our thinking. I completely agree with his logic, coming from someone who has advocated from both sides.
    I grew up in an extremely pro-life household. I protested on the state capitol steps with mother when I was 9 years old. I help up signs at Operation Rescue while my mother chained herself doors and gates and fences. I learned when she graduated high school, she had become pregnant, moved hundreds of miles from home without telling anyone she was pregnant, and gave the child up for adoption. Later she met my dad, and started a family. My sister also got pregnant right out of high school (all the abstinence talks from mom failed…). Bio-dad left her, and she became a single mom, raising her daughter on her own. So I understood firsthand the consequences of having a child when it wasn’t planned, and had examples in front of me on how it could be done. Then I went to college…
    In college, I met two women, one who became my best friend. Both had abortions as teenagers – high school students. They were scared, and the dads immediately wanted the pregnancies ended. One had to cross state lines to obtain an abortion without her parents knowledge. For the first time, the face of someone who would abort an unborn child had a real face, a personality, a future. And I now understood that the choice was not mine to make. I would not judge someone for making a decision that I had never been confronted with. And I decided that the choice was between the woman and her conscious, her God. I felt the need to defend a woman’s right to choose. I was against all legislation that would make it harder, knowing that the intent behind the legislation was to ultimately outlaw abortion.
    Then came the Gosnell House of Horrors. I had believed that few women had abortions late, and was only because there were other issues – mother’s life, fetal abnormalities… And what I read with Gosnell was not the case. There were no compelling reaso

  • Mom2Kids2

    Finishing my post from above… Then came the Gosnell House of Horrors. I had believed that few women had abortions late, and was only because there were other issues – mother’s life, fetal abnormalities… And what I read with Gosnell was not the case. There were no compelling reasons the women were having late term abortions, other than waiting. They were induced, much like I was with the birth of my children. And the babies were born. An unknown number had their necks snipped after birth to ensure “fetal demise”. Most of these babies would have lived – even being born 15 weeks early – had the mothers been induced in a hospital. And my thinking evolved again…
    The passage of 3 inches should not dictate life or death. If the fetus is far enough along to survive out of the womb, then it should be illegal. It’s not that much of a slippery slope – most states already set the limit at 24-26 weeks. Medical advances will happen, but a newly conceived clump of cells will never be able to survive out of the womb. Certain things need to develop first – heart, lungs – before it can remotely be viable. A woman has plenty of time to decide – 20 weeks is 4 1/2 months – and a woman should have decided by then.
    I am undecided about other parts of the legislation. Often times, making the requirements meet those of a surgical center will close down most clinics. Requiring doctors to have admitting privileges isn’t easy. A doctor can be appropriately certified, but hospitals can refuse them admitting privileges. However, the Gosnell House of Horrors shows what happens when clinics are ungoverned. If the intent is truly about women’s health, then there should be standards that clinics that are operating professionally (sterile, safe) will be able to meet, while those operating under makeshift conditions would be closed. And let’s make it so that hospitals cannot deny a doctor admitting privileges based on occupation alone.

  • cents or sense

    Most Americans are not doctors. When it comes to medicine I trust doctors to do the right thing far more than I trust politicians.
    If abortion is already illegal at 24 weeks, that means that about 400 abortions are performed over 20 weeks each year. That doesn’t seem like a huge problem that needs to be mandated by shutting down 80% of the women’s clinics. IN fact you may find that denying OBGYN care to everyone in rural areas will kill more women and babies than that.
    Current laws make it illegal over 24 weeks with exceptions for medical reasons, incest and rape, why exactly can’t a law be written the same way about abortions at 20 weeks?
    Oh yeah, because this law has nothing to do with babies, pregnancy, or women. It is about shutting down healthcare for the poor. Just like ending CHIP, defunding WIC, and dismantling Medicaid.
    Demonstrably since the “Pro-Life”, movement has been involved in Women’s health there Maternal deaths during pregnancy and birth have risen, infant mortality has risen. Since women and children are dying more often as a result of this nonsense, we should call it it by its right name, Anti-Women’s rights.

  • tony55398

    Women must realize it’s a human life that is aborted and for what reason? What reason is good enough to destroy a life, convenience, it’s a burden, money, people will know I had sex, it’s in the way of my own fulfillment, or just because I want to, or I don’t like kids, or I don’t want to look for help, etc.? Okay so maybe you really are not good parent material. Your actions prove it’s so if you are not willing to value life above your personal desires or pleasures. The actions of the dads who forced their daughters to abort are proof that not all have a free choice, so maybe these daughters, all girls and women should go before a judge to determine if force is involved, by dads, mothers, husbands or boyfriends.

  • jarandeh

    Or because the fetus has acalvaria?

    Perhaps you might consider that the issue is more complicated than you think it is.

  • jarandeh

    I regret that I have but one ‘Like’ to give this comment.

  • tony55398

    Or not so complicated after all.

  • Catken1

    Anti-choicers must realize that the fetus is living in the body of a human, not an incubating machine. Just as you have the right to choose your pleasures and your convenience over someone else’s life just because they need a pint of your blood to survive, something that requires no more of you than an hour’s time, a pinprick, and some easily replaced bodily fluid, with no permanent consequences to you whatsoever, so a woman has the right to choose not to donate nine months of being used and lived in by another, having her every bodily system co-opted for that person’s use, paying great costs in time, energy, money, pain, risk, and bodily substance, and ending up permanently changed in body and mind in many respects, some quite painful.

  • vijayk

    I believe an unborn child would strongly agree that each person should have the right to choose what they do to there own body.

  • Catken1

    So vijayk, does my right to choose what happens to my body allow me to take any of your body parts to sustain my own life? Ever?
    Is a mother’s womb part of the unborn child’s body? How about the resources from her body that feed and sustain that unborn child? Does she have no say in how those are used?

  • leibowde84

    You HAVE TO REALIZE THAT THIS IS A LEGAL ISSUE, not a moral one. This is a situation where there is no way to make abortion illegal without taking away the right to bodily autonomy of women. As pro-choice, I am in no way in favor of abortion. Personally, I feel as if it is a sin. But, my feelings on the issue, the fetus’ pain, and the religious doctrine on the issue are meaningless, as the state cannot take away this right from the mother.

    You can argue that the child has a right to live, but the only way that life can happen is if the mother gives up her body for it. So, I’m sorry, but your argument is off topic. No one thinks that abortion is moral … but it is necessary in order to protect women’s right to privacy.

  • leibowde84

    I think that abortion is immoral, but forcing women into pregnancy is more immoral.

  • jarandeh

    Exactly. There is no way to enforce a ban without having to violate autonomy. Also, should women be jailed? Should doctors or nurses?

    Leave it up to individuals, in consultation with their doctors and loved ones. Anything else is unenforcible in a non-police state.

  • amelia45

    What worries me is that we are moving from extreme to extreme. If you want to talk about abortions banned after 20 weeks talk to me about safeguards for women whose pregnancies are dangerous to their health or life, talk to me about medical care for the fetus, mother and new born for a child with severe fetal defects, talk to me about safe conditions at places where abortions are conducted. Get rid of all the laws recently passed whose sole purpose is to drive all abortion clinics out of business.

    If you want moderation, you need to be willing to give moderation back.

  • An-Toan

    Prompts me to wonder whether the culture wars may be a much bigger issues in the next cycles of national elections that many people might have anticipated.

  • An-Toan

    Correction: Prompts me to wonder whether the culture wars may be much bigger issues in the next cycles of national elections than what many people might have anticipated

  • sciencelady1

    How many weeks before abortion is banned? That’s a very tough line to draw for someone else’s body.

  • cricket44

    If by logical you mean moronic, sure. People knee- jerk their opposition to late term abortions without doing any readership on why they are sometimes necessary. I would think someone writing an opinion piece would do the work…

  • cricket44

    Appreciate you sharing your thoughts but it’s not about time to decide. These are often wanted pregnancies where something has gone horribly wrong. It takes time for diagnoses and consultation with specialists. Gosnell was a criminal. He doesn’t really belong in this debate.

  • cricket44

    Research, not readership.

  • Carstonio

    Keeping abortion legal is not a declaration by government that abortion is morally acceptable. Millions of pro-choicers believe that abortion is wrong, but support legality because they believe it’s also wrong to force women to carry pregnancies to term. They also recognize that bans on abortion do nothing to reduce them. Reducing abortions means access to fact-based sex education, factual counseling, and access to birth control. It doesn’t mean trying to shame women who don’t desire motherhood.

  • Jack Stone

    I suppose you are refering to cases where the mother’s life is endanger and the baby and or the baby is unresponsive? Why not make a law than where those are exceptions since thats exactly what they are. They only represent a small portion of cases yet people like you repeatedly use them as the rule rather than the exception.

  • leibowde84

    Abstinence has been proven not to work. Look at all of the people who gave it up to have s-x. Basically, if someone tries abstinence and realizes that it is too difficult and unrealistic, then abstinence has failed. Why do you disregard this obvious truth?!

  • cricket44

    They actually are the rule for ater term abortions. LTAs are a small portion of all abortions anyway so these restrictions serve no purpose.

  • alert4jsw

    As a professor of Christian ethics, Mr. Camosy should be able to cite the Biblical references for his claim that banning abortion at 20 weeks is logical. But I’ll save him the trouble of researching it, because nowhere in the Bible does it say that abortion should be banned. Abortion is not even mentioned in the Bible. It does say that if a man strikes a woman and causes a miscarriage, it is NOT murder, but a property crime for which her husband (not she) must be compensated. Even the Catholic church didn’t object to abortion before ensoulment (or quickening) until the mid-1800’s.

    The entire abortion issue has never been about the fetus anyway. It has been about making any sexual activity not intended to result in pregnancy as scary and dangerous as possible.

  • chris008

    Of course, Camosy isn’t making a religious argument…as much as his opponents would like to reduce it to this. After all, when you can invoke make-believe stories about how it is “secretly about religious attempts to control sex” you don’t have to deal with the actual arguments and views of your real-life opponents.

    Europe has MUCH more strict regulations that this bill proposes, and they are post-Christian. It is fine if you don’t want to engage in an actual, good-faith argument. But then let’s all admit what is really going on here–dishonest game playing in order to win some kind of rhetorical game.

  • longjohns

    Abortion arguably makes more sense than building guns and bombs to kill children, women and men around the world. So if we should be willing to defund the defense department and use the money to pay for the cost of clothing, sheltering and educating children that young women couldn’t afford and really are not in the position to parent.

  • sciencelady1

    A lot of comments here are implying that women aren’t trusted to make moral decisions, so the solution is to ban the mother’s health choices in favor of protecting the fetus’ life. A fetus is a non-autonomous life (i.e.,dependent on another life to survive), whose health interest is not automatically a priority over the mothers’.

  • leibowde84

    Yeah … not really a fair comparison to make. Lay people aren’t confined to celibacy in any way. So, they have no reason to adhere to it. THat is the flaw with your logic.

    And, if you claim that people who incorrectly use the pill and condoms, how do you think it reasonable to disqualify people who don’t use abstinence correctly (or “keep it up” in other words).

    I think the only way to make the comparison fair is to include every person who attempted abstinence and failed to follow thru as a failure of abstinence. My reasoning is that the main flaw with abstinence is it being unrealistic.

  • Ted2607

    Well, it’s not really autonomous till it’s out of the house earning a living.

  • swimming4life

    So, I guess we should then kill off people that become non-autonomous through illness, accidents or disease when no one chooses to care for them? A newborn baby that is “wanted” is non-autonomous. So, infanticide is alright? And, how many women HAVE regretted having an abortion because they were in a position in which it was difficult for them to make a clear moral decision. Many people are waiting to adopt. All that is asked is that you give the child life.

  • swimming4life

    It seems like the tough line for you to draw is when the other entity involved in the womb becomes human. BTW, there is a body in the womb, right? So, we are talking about two bodies here. Can you tell me why a man that kills a pregnant woman, no matter what gestation of the “fetus” she is carrying is charged with murder just because that child was wanted. THAT is totally illogical to me when we have abortion available.

  • swimming4life

    No one forced a woman into pregnancy unless she is raped.

  • sciencelady1

    Whoa…swimming4life…you offer a false dichotomy and slippery slope fallacy. How did we get from consider abortion case by case to infanticide-is-alright?

    Also, you said, “All that is asked is that you give the child life.” as if I were aborting babies. Although I’d consider it if I got pregnant now – I’m over 50 but still fertile. Would you want my baby if I got pregant? How about I pay to transplant it into your womb?

  • chris008

    No human being can be “trusted” not to kill another. Male or female. That’s why we have laws against murder. And we got to infanticide because you said directly that the reason why the prenatal child isn’t a person is because she isn’t “autonomous”…but aside from being anything but a feminist consideration (those who are dependent actually deserve special protection, according to feminism), it also applies to newborn children, who are also anything but autonomous.

  • JudgeRoyBean

    If you were granted one wish on the condition that it improve the world for the most people, I doubt that there would be better wish than to wish that religion, of any type, never existed. Religion harms more than it heals. The paradox is that it makes individuals less tolerant of one another, to the point extreme violence. So if the concept of religion was never know to man, The United States would improve in civility overnight. We has far too many religious knuckleheads ready to hate for their professed “love” of Jesus. The abortion issue isn’t about the love of the unborn child, it’s about the supremacy of the so-called “righteous”. If abortion of any type was made illegal tomorrow, the religious zealots would move on to their next crusade. It isn’t about the babies at all.

  • Bluefish2012

    chris008, I doubt you will get a response. Right there is the blind spot of the folks who believe that a fetus (with its distinctive DNA) is nothing more than a part of its mother’s body. “Choice” is such a lame argument. I can choose to shoot anyone with a legal gun if I choose to do that. Obviously that doesn’t make it morally right–in the same way that legalizing murder wouldn’t make murder morally right. Godwin’s law notwithstanding, it is the same thinking that allowed Hitler to kill 6 million Jews or masters to own slaves. Legal ain’t always right.

  • stafford123

    Balderdash – I will say balderdash to your message (screed?). You use the Guttmacher data to provide cover, but you badly distort the data. You use the “perfect use” portion of the material to make your assertion that abstinence is the best choice, yet conveniently neglect to mention that Guttmacher goes on to say the in the real world it is likely that abstinence has a high failure rate because people are not abstinent. In fact, Guttmacher states that no one knows what the actual failure rate is for abstinence, so it cannot be compared to other methods of contracteption.

    A justice of the Canadian supreme court said it eloquently:

    “Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus an infringement of security of the person.”

    Another justice commented:

    “The right to reproduce or not to reproduce…is properly perceived as an integral part of modern woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”

    Abortion is not a subject that lends itself to easy or clear choices. However, it should ultimately be left to the women, her medical advisors, and any other counselors she chooses to include. No one else has the right to intrude in that decision; each woman must be free to decide based on her own beliefs and values.

  • leibowde84

    Exactly. And the fact of the matter is that most women who are raped refuse to admit it because of embarrassment and the stigma associated with being a victim. They don’t want to go to the authorities because they don’t want to relive the experience. Thus, the option of having an abortion must be available for a reasonable amount to all women to be safe.

    And, in today’s modern world, having sex is not welcoming pregnancy. It is not an excuse to force a woman to give up her body to another living thing. Morally, obviously, you have a point. But this is not a moral question … it is a legal one. We are talking about the law, and because of that face, we are forced to adhere to certain legal principals designed to protect the rights of both men and women. Denying anyone (even a fetus) the ability to force another person to give up their body for them.

  • Bornin81

    The actual data from the study Mr. Camosy references regarding Millennials, page 3:

    Abortion should be:
    legal in all cases: 24%
    legal in most cases: 30%
    illegal in most cases: 28%
    illegal in all cases: 16%
    Roughly 59% believe that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

    Abortion is morally wrong: 51%
    abortion is morally acceptable: 37%
    undecided: 12%

    Claiming that Millennials are “anti-abortion” based on this study is tenuous, at best.

    Concerning the TX 20 week ban, that law is so much more than a 20 week abortion ban. It is a blatant attempt to eliminate as much access to abortion as possible and not in line with the views of the majority of Americans (who support abortion during early weeks), based on the referenced Gallup study. Not to mention that the referenced study about the TX law shows that less than 50% of Americans support the ban, proving the attempt at relating the article to the TX law severely flawed.

  • Bornin81

    typo should read: “Not to mention that the UNrefernced study about the TX law…”

  • leibowde84

    charisoo8, I am sorry to say it, but you are in desperate need of a dictionary.

    Autonomous = existing and functioning as an independent organism. A fetus is not autonomous. Once the child is born, they are. Simple enough for you?

    You should really check out a dictionary next time you call someone out who has a legitimate point with pure jibberish. Next you will say that the legal term “marriage” has something to do with religion. Haha.

  • leibowde84

    Religion or not, no one should be forced to give up their body for another living thing. There is no legal argument around that. Morally, it is a completely different story, but this is solely a legal matter.

  • rdcnyc

    Christian Ethics?

    Like a suprememe being, there’s no such thing. Anybody who spouts the notion that a god exists is spouting falsehoods that children in shorts should be taught is untrue.

    As for abortion? Nobody wants one. Let those who NEED one, get one.

    OR support a Republican Child Support Act that will support every child born on US soil.