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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 November 10; 335(7627): 953.
PMCID: PMC2071977
Abortion Limit Debate

Viability is probably irrelevant

Richard J Lyus, family medicine resident

Arguments to lower the gestational age limit at which abortion may be performed are based almost entirely on the idea of fetal viability—the gestational age at which, if the fetus were born prematurely, it would have a reasonable chance of survival.1 The viability argument can be a convenient one for both sides of the debate, but it does not hold up to rational analysis. Suppose that, by some medical breakthrough, we were able to support spontaneously miscarried pregnancies, even at very early gestational ages—perhaps by suspending them in some life-sustaining fluid, in which they could fully develop as they would in the uterus. Would this be compelling evidence that we should abolish abortion altogether? Conversely, suppose some new virus epidemic sweeps through the nation, becoming endemic in all hospitals and special care baby units in which premature babies are cared for. The virus infects and kills all babies born before 32 weeks, as their lungs are not mature enough to recover from the insult caused. Would this be a compelling argument to increase the gestational age limit on abortion?

Both sides of the debate need to realise that viability is probably irrelevant.


Competing interests: None declared.


1. Dyer C. Experts clash as committee debates reducing 24 week abortion limit. BMJ 2007;335:789 (20 October.) doi:10.1136/bmj.39371.423924.DB

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