Viability, Survivability, and Fetal Pain

women's healthWhen does a fetus gain the ability to live without its mother? This question is viability, defined by the Supreme Court as when a baby is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb…”
The legal definition of viability is “capable of independent existence.” This definition is too broad; it covers many people to whom it was initially intended to refer . A healthy 2-month-old girl by this definition isn’t viable, since she can not live without the support of parents or guardians. Really by this definition viability isn’t reached until at least the teenage years, and can be lost again through a coma, stroke, or other medical problem.

Viability has traditionally been used to determine the ethical justification of abortion, though this is wrong. If this justification were the only rule in murder, any crazy, crippled, or young human could be legally killed. Viability must be defined more clearly.

Yet measuring viability for abortion does make a certain amount of sense. A child is completely dependent on its mother for a certain amount of time after conception; no one else could support the child. But what happens when someone else can support it? Should the baby be allowed to be murdered when the mother doesn’t want to take care of it, even if someone else does? There are currently two million couples in America waiting for an adoption (National Commission for Adoption) so why is murder a better choice than adoption? This is a moral question, something that should be decided by each individual. But if these morals are shared by the majority of society, they should be made law. Just as murder after birth has been found immoral and made illegal, morals should lead to law in murder before birth as well.

But to make this decision, many important facts must be known, mainly: when does a baby become capable of being supported by those other than its mother? Survivability rate is based mainly on the age of the baby. 24 weeks after conception, a baby has about a 40% chance of survival without its mother. 28 weeks after conception, the baby’s chance is up to 90%. 32 weeks after conception, the baby’s chance is over 99.9%. However, murder is still legal against these adoptable babies until birth, usually about 39 weeks after conception.(Ohio Department of Health)

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Many people insist that, should a baby be delivered prematurely, even though it will live it will still have some kind of deformation. But that is simply not true! The Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio did a study to see the results of low birth weights due to premature birth on physical or mental handicaps. Of those babies born weighing only 1 lb 10 oz to 2 lb 3 oz, only 25% had physical or mental handicaps. Of those weighing 2 lb 3 oz to 2 lb 12 oz, only 12% had these handicaps. And out of the babies weighing more than 2 lb 12 oz, not a single baby was handicapped. So even at an extremely low birth weight, babies continued to survive.

So abortion in many cases kills a baby that could be delivered prematurely, and grow up perfectly happy and healthy with adoptive parents. But not allowing a baby to experience the joys of life doesn’t hurt it in any other ways, does it? Unfortunately, yes. After approximately 9 weeks after conception, an unborn baby can feel pain (US Department of Health and Human Services).

Former president Ronald Reagan once said, “When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.”(New York Times, Jan. 31, 1984) Many people disputed this statement, but two weeks later the president received a letter from many doctors, including two former presidents of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The letter read:

February 13, 1984
President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington, DC

Mr. President:

As physicians, we, the undersigned, are pleased to associate
ourselves with you in drawing the attention of people across
the nation to the humanity and sensitivity of the human

That the unborn, the prematurely born, and the newborn of the
human species is a highly complex, sentient, functioning,
individual organism is established scientific fact. That the
human unborn and newly born do respond to stimuli is also
established beyond any reasonable doubt.

The ability to feel pain and respond to it is clearly not a
phenomenon that develops de novo at birth. Indeed, much of
enlightened modern obstetrical practice and procedure seeks to
minimize sensory deprivation of, and sensory insult to, the
fetus during, at, and after birth. Over the last 18 years, real
time ultrasonography, fetoscopy, study of the fetal EKG
(electrocardiogram) and fetal EEG (electroencephalogram) have
demonstrated the remarkable responsiveness of the human fetus
to pain, touch, and sound. That the fetus responds to changes
in light intensity within the womb, to heat, to cold, and to
taste (by altering the chemical nature of the fluid swallowed
by the fetus) has been exquisitely documented in the pioneering
work of the late Sir William Liley — the father of fetology.
Observations of the fetal electrocardiogram and the increase in
fetal movements in saline abortions indicate that the fetus
experiences discomfort as it dies. Indeed, one doctor who, the
New York Times wrote, “conscientiously performs” saline
abortions stated, “When you inject the saline, you often see an
increase in fetal movements, it’s horrible.”

We state categorically that no finding of modern fetology
invalidates the remarkable conclusion drawn after a lifetime of
research by the late Professor Arnold Gesell of Yale
University. In “The Embryology of Behavior: The Beginnings of
the Human Mind” (1945, Harper Bros.), Dr. Gesell wrote, “and so
by the close of the first trimester the fetus is a sentient,
moving being. We need not speculate as to the nature of his
psychic attributes, but we may assert that the organization of
his psychosomatic self is well under way.”

Mr. President, in drawing attention to the capability of the
human fetus to feel pain, you stand on firmly established


Dr. Richard T. F. Schmidt, Past President, A.C.O.G., Professor of Ob/Gyn,
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Dr. Vincent Collins, Professor of Anesthesiology, Northwestern University,
University of Illinois Medical Center

Dr. John G. Masterson, Clinical Professor of Ob/Gyn, Northwestern University

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, F.A.C.O.G., Clinical Assistant Professor of Ob/Gyn,
Cornell University

Dr. Denis Cavanaugh, F.A.C.O.G., Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of South

Dr. Watson Bowes, F.A.C.O.G., Professor of Material and Fetal Medicine,
University of North Carolina

Dr. Byron Oberst, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of

Dr. Eugene Diamond, Professor of Pediatrics, Strict School of Medicine,
Chicago, IL

Dr. Thomas Potter, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, New Jersey
Medical College

Dr. Lawrence Dunegan, Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of

Dr. Melvin Thornton, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Texas (San

Dr. Norman Vernig, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota
(St. Paul)

Dr. Jerome Shen, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, St. Louis University

Dr. Fred Hofmeister, Past President, A.C.O.G., Professor of Ob/Gyn, University
of Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

Dr. Matthew Bulfin, F.A.C.O.G., Lauderdale by the Sea, FL

Dr. Jay Arena, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Duke University

Dr. Herbert Nakata, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of

Dr. Robert Polley, Clinical Instructor of Pediatrics, University of Washington

Dr. David Foley, Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

Dr. Anne Bannon, F.A.A.P., Former Chief of Pediatrics, CityHospital (St.

Dr. John J. Brennan, Professor of Ob/Gyn, Medical College of Wisconsin,

Dr. Walter F. Watts, Assistant Professor of Ob/Gyn, Strict School of Medicine,
Chicago, IL

Dr. G. C. Tom Nabors, Assistant Clinical Professor of Ob/Gyn, Southwestern
Medical College, Dallas, TX

Dr. Konald Prem, Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis)

Dr. Alfred Derby, F.A.C.O.G., Spokane, WA

Dr. Bernie Pisani, F.A.C.O.G., President, NY State Medical Society, Professor
of Ob/Gyn, New York University

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