News last week that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear arguments in a potentially pivotal abortion case sent shock waves through liberal circles, and according to pro-life advocate Thomas Glessner, the matter offers the court’s conservative wing a prime opportunity to overturn a central aspect of Roe V. Wade once and for all.
The case of Thomas Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health asks the justice to determine whether Mississippi’s 2018 Gestational Age Act – a statute that bans abortion after 15 weeks – is indeed constitutional, with a central question centering on the point in time at which a fetus has achieved “viability.”
Glessner, founder and president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, writes in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner that now is the time for the court to put an end to the sort of abortion on demand engendered by Roe in 1973 and acknowledge that a pregnancy’s so-called “viability” is an unacceptable – and increasingly irrelevant – measure of an unborn child’s humanity.
As Glessner points out, in Roe, the justices held that prohibiting abortion prior to a pregnancy’s viability – the point at which a baby can live outside the womb – amounted to an “undue burden” on a mother’s right to abortion, and that analysis has remained the prevailing standard for assessing the constitutionality of potential restrictions on abortion to the present day.
However, Glessner argues, “viability is not a measurement of the humanity of an individual. Rather, it is a measurement of the state of medical technology,” providing examples of an astronaut on the moon requiring a spacesuit for survival and a deep-sea diver needed an oxygen tank in order to live and arguing that such individuals may not be technically “viable” without external assistance, but are no less human.
The holding in Roe pegged viability outside the womb as occurring at 24 weeks gestational age, but as Glessner points out, advances in medicine have altered that time frame considerable in recent decades, making it possible for babies to survive much earlier than in the past.
In authoring the opinion in Roe, Glessner notes, Justice Harry Blackmun offered a “curious and illogical” rationale for using “viability” as a determinant of when abortion is permissible, saying that it represented a point in time at which a child is “capable of meaningful life outside the womb.”
Glessner argues that such a standard is problematic in that it means that “human life cannot be protected by the law unless it is ‘meaningful,’” and proceeds to ask whether the lives of a handicapped newborn or an adult who becomes a quadriplegic are “meaningful,” given that those individuals would require artificial means and external assistance to continue.
Should the justices uphold Mississippi’s statutory abortion restrictions in this case, Glessner says, all states will be free to ban abortion entirely and Roe will “take its deserved place in the ash heaps of history.” With six conservative justices now on the bench, he asserts, chances are stronger than ever that the country “can seize this opportunity to fulfill its promise to future generations that we stand for liberty and justice for all.”