Courtesy of Tiny Pasture, we learn that Lynn Sebourn was out informing folks that pregnant women are carrying babies in their tummies. How the folks of Tennessee have managed to go this long without that bit of knowledge remains a mystery, but I’m glad someone is out there clearing it up. Lord knows with Bush’s love of abstinence-only education, it can be hard to know if kids are getting the basic facts of life.
These show the baby at various stages from 12 weeks to 30 weeks. The models are soft, life size and life weight. Young girls are always fascinated by the models. Over and over, young teens express surprise that at 12 weeks the baby is fully formed. It’s actually a little baby. I think this is one of the most powerful things we can do for the pro-life movement. Just show people that a fetus is a baby.
Well, wow, there’s a lot going on in this paragraph and you may have some questions. Shall we take it a little bit at a time?
1. By showing babies at various stages from 12 to 30 weeks, doesn’t it seem as if Sebourn and his group are implying that women who have abortions are killing helpless cute babies? And yet, both sides in the abortion debate rely on the numbers compiled by the Guttmacher Institute and they report that only 12% of abortions happen after twelve weeks.
2. When, then, do most abortions happen? Again, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 60% of abortions happen before the pregnancy is 9 weeks along; 19.3% happen in the 9-10 week time-frame; and 10% happen in the 11-12 week time period.
3. But can’t Sebourn just save up and get him some cute little even tinier babies to represent these stages in fetal development? Well, it turns out that there aren’t a series of even tinier fully formed babies to make models off of. At four weeks, the embryo is two layers of cells sandwiched between the yolk sac and the amniotic sac. Six weeks? Still not very cute. At least at eight weeks, we see the beginnings of the brain, but it’s kind of in a giant lump outside what we might call the head, not exactly cuddly. By ten weeks, it’s kind of cute, if not exactly baby looking. But, yuck, the 12 week old fetus doesn’t even have its intestines inside it. You can surely not cuddle with a baby whose intestines are all hanging out. Not only is it not cute, it’s not sanitary.
4. “At twelve weeks, the baby is fully formed.” You mean, aside from not having its intestines inside its body? Or not having a working circulatory system until 16 weeks? Or how about not having fully developed lungs until after 22 weeks? Or does “fully formed” have some other definition I’m not aware of?
5. I’m really disturbed by this language of “fully formed,” because, regardless of where you fall on the abortion debate, you should have realistic expectations about fetal development so that you can make informed decisions when it comes to your own pregnancies. According to the March of Dimes, in 2004 (the latest I could find data for) 10,000 infants died from preterm related deaths. We often talk about viability in the abortion debate–at what point a fetus can survive outside of its mother–and people often throw 24 weeks around as a realistic benchmark, with some anti-abortion folks claiming that viability is at 22 weeks. Franklin Foer talks about this in some detail:
But no baby has ever been successfully delivered before the middle of the 22nd week. Babies delivered during the 22nd and 23rd weeks weigh just over a pound. Their lungs have barely formed and their airways are not developed enough to inhale. Circulation depends on the use of ventilators and injections of hormones. A baby born during the 22nd week has a 14.8 percent chance of survival. And about half of these survivors are brain-damaged, either by lack of oxygen (from poor initial respiration) or too much oxygen (from the ventilator). Neonatologists predict that no baby will ever be viable before the 22nd week, because before then the lungs are not fully formed.
Probability of survival increases for babies born later in pregnancy: 25 percent in the 23rd week, 42 percent in the 24th week, 57 percent in 25th week. By the 30th week, when a newborn doesn’t require a ventilator to breathe, it has a 90 percent chance of survival. And only after the 30th week do the risks of long-term brain damage begin to substantially subside. Because premature babies depend on technology, survival rates vary based on access to that technology. For instance, in rural communities, which commonly lack expensive infant intensive-care units, survival rates in these early weeks are much lower.
Not to be glib, but so much for “fully formed.”
Hopefully the people of Tennessee are getting access to all this information in order to make informed decisions about their reproductive health.