When is the right time for an abortion? - (5/28/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Tony was hanging around the pharmacy waiting for the pharmacist to refill his prescriptions. Looking to pass the time, he said to the pharmacist, “So what do you think of this abortion thing in Congress?” Oh no, you don’t, thought the pharmacist. Do not drag me into that conversation, Tony. Abortion talk only causes problems as evidenced by the many Thanksgiving dinners that included his Uncle Joe who is very forthright about politics and religion. There are a million sides to the topic and everyone thinks they are on the right side. People cannot agree – and that includes the individual states that form this Republic. For example, the States differ on the latest point in pregnancy a woman can get an abortion. Some states say 24 weeks, while others say 13 weeks. A handful of states allow a woman to get an abortion at any time prior to giving birth. In the end, does it really matter when?

“But abortions are getting rarer,” one might say. One could mention that, according to the sexual rights organization Guttmacher Institute, the US abortion rate declined by 25% in recent years, due to progress in birth control and family planning. Yet, 1 in 4 women will have an abortion by age 45 and, of these, 59% are mothers. Then again, one could argue that “Even one abortion is one abortion too many.” 

“But abortions are getting safer.” The World Health Organization estimates that 42 million abortions take place globally, 22 million safely and 20 million unsafely. Unsafe abortion accounts for 70,000 maternal deaths each year and causes a further 5 million women to suffer temporary or permanent disability. More women die due to complications of unsafe abortion are higher in regions with restricted abortion laws than in places with no or few restrictions on access to safe and legal abortion. So, yes, abortions are getting safer – if you are in the right place at the right time. 
“But some women have a good reason.” Every woman who aborts is motivated in some way. It could be contraception failure. It could be lack of sex education (“I didn’t know.”). The reason could be that after having two sons and no girls, “having another boy was not in the plan because we really want a girl.” It could be that the fetus is so horribly deformed that the rest of the family would suffer in taking this pregnancy to term, both emotionally and financially. And some women have no good reason.

“But the fetus is not aware.” True, fetal heart cells can beat on their own in a petri dish. This does not constitute intelligent life. By 8 weeks gestation, a fetus can flex its spine, an indication that enough of a nervous system exists for it to feel pain. While fetuses of that age lack a fully developed cerebral cortex, experiments on animals with no cortex show that they withdraw from painful stimuli. Yet, data from many studies show that fetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester. So, is sooner, better?

One can say, ”Thanks to Planned Parenthood, my life was saved.” Another person can say, “Thanks to Planned Parenthood, I never needed an abortion.”

Should the fetus get a chance at life via adoption if it is too traumatic to keep? Is it less traumatic to end the pregnancy, and for whom? Even though many like to speculate on how many kids are patiently awaiting adoption, it does not take into account that at least those children get an opportunity to experience life. Right or wrong, the pharmacist knows that this is something worth pondering. Tony, be damned!

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at


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