Bioethics Blogs

Which is It? “Tissue” or “Baby”?

I’m not a physician. I know next to nothing about biology or embryology. I’m confused. Will those who are trained in medical sciences please help me to understand?

In January 2017, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law Bill 1032 which prohibits a procedure, “dilation and evacuation” (D&E), that is used in a large percentage of abortions after the 14-week mark. Critics complain that making this “safe and common” procedure illegal effectively bans second trimester abortions. Declaring the bill unconstitutional, Rita Skylar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, contends: “It’s an empty gesture that’s going to cost the state tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees and costs.” Skylar is correct in at least this regard. The new law will be opposed stridently by Arkansas ACLU and various pro-abortion groups and will, more than likely, become hung up in appeals court, as is the “pain capable abortion” bill—banning abortions after 20 weeks—that was passed in 2013.

Ignorant as I am about surgical procedures, I looked up “Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) for Abortion” on WebMD. Admittedly, the procedure itself sounded rather dreadful to a person untrained in medicine and surgery like myself. I found especially intriguing the terminology used to described what is “evacuated” in this procedure. Repeatedly, the article referred to “tissue,” “larger pieces of tissue,” and “uterine contents.”

Granted, I do not know much about embryology either, but I assumed that at 14 weeks the fetus was more than simply “tissue,” even “large pieces of tissue.” Thus, I searched the same website and found a slideshow on “Fetal Development: Month by Month.” In light of the website’s description of D&E, the title of the slideshow was startling: “Your Baby’s Growth: Conception to Birth.” Consistently, the slideshow referred to the developing embryo-fetus as “baby.” Viewing pictures of the “baby” at 12 weeks, 14 weeks, and 16 weeks, I concluded that my original assumption was correct.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.