How technology is reframing the abortion debate

Hastings Cent Rep. 1986 Feb;16(1):33-42.


Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, medical and scientific developments have focused greater public and professional attention on the status of the fetus. Their cumulative effect may influence legal, social, and moral thought and set the stage for a change in public opinion and a challenge to legalized abortion. There is as yet no inexorable convergence of medical data and legal opinion that would undermine the rational of Roe v. Wade. But the prochoice movement must find room for an open airing of the moral questions if abortion is to remain what it should be--a legally acceptable act.

KIE: Callahan examines technological developments affecting the fetus that have occurred since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and discusses the manner in which resulting changes in public attitudes toward fetal status could challenge legalized abortion. Progress in neonatal care has lowered the age of fetal viability; sonogram pictures have "humanized" the fetus; occupational hazards to the fetus have been recognized; and fetal therapy is in prospect. The author foresees that these developments may undercut the reasoning of earlier court decisions, have psychological effects leading to a refashioning of moral views, and produce a social trend away from concern with the public health benefits of abortion to the clash between fetal and women's rights. He analyzes various feminist and prochoice positions on abortion and urges prochoice adherents to acknowledge that new medical developments are contributing to the moral uncertainty of abortion decisions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aborted Fetus
  • Abortion, Legal*
  • Beginning of Human Life
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / therapy
  • Fetal Viability*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Life
  • Maternal-Fetal Relations
  • Medical Laboratory Science / trends*
  • Moral Obligations
  • Personhood
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women*
  • Prenatal Diagnosis
  • Supreme Court Decisions
  • Ultrasonography
  • United States
  • Women's Rights / legislation & jurisprudence