How Fetal Patienthood Spells Trouble For 'Pro-Choice' Arguments

/ Commentary

Anyone who has attempted to engage a pro-abortion advocate might have heard lines like, “It’s just a clump of cells in my body, so what’s wrong with killing it?” It is true if the fetus were really nothing more than a clump of cells in the mother’s body, abortion would be justifiable. After all, what is wrong with her choosing to dispose of a few of her own cells?

Through rapid advancements in prenatal technology, however, we have come to learn even from the embryonic stage the preborn is not a mere clump of cells; at least they do not behave that way.

Rather, they resemble independent living organisms with the capacity to grow, adapt, react, and even repair themselves, right from the earliest stages. These technological advancements repeatedly expose pro-abortion arguments as shoddy efforts to rationalize attempts at playing God by arbitrarily assigning value to human lives. One such development is the treatment of the fetus as a patient.

According to The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America, a “patient” is “an individual who is receiving needed professional services that are directed by a licensed practitioner of the healing arts towards maintenance, improvement or protection of health or lessening of illness, disability or pain.”

Does the fetus, then, qualify as a patient under this definition? Fifty years ago, the answer would have been ‘no.’ But today, the tide is overwhelmingly turning towards a resounding ‘yes,’ as recent medical advances have led to the development of diagnostic tests and other procedures which allow for the fetus to be treated as a patient.

Take for instance the First-Trimester Fetal Echocardiography Program, a diagnostic test for congenital heart defects during the earliest stages of pregnancy.

It involves an ultrasound exam between 11 and 14 weeks, and can help diagnose conditions like abnormalities in the fetal cardiac axis, reversed blood flow, or fetal heart rate. Fetal MRI testing can also be done to check for the presence of pulmonary lesions, renal or genitourinary abnormalities, or merely to check brain development.

In these and similar cases, the fetus is quite literally a patient being subjected to diagnostic testing dedicated to the assessment of fetal welfare.

Further evidence of the rise of fetal patienthood can be found in the rapid development of medical procedures to prevent or treat prenatal disorders. Suppose it is discovered, due to a fetal anomaly, it is expected the baby will be unable to breathe independently after delivery. A technique called ex-utero intrapartum treatment is used to intervene and save the life of the baby by establishing a functional airway before being separated from the placenta.

Similarly, in the case of severe renal abnormalities, fetal shunt placement is performed to drain the fetal bladder. Other procedures include open fetal resection to remove tumors in the case of sacrococcygeal teratoma, and surgery to treat bladder outlet obstruction, thereby preventing serious damage to the bladder and kidneys, and ensuring normal pulmonary development.

Once again, it is evident these procedures (and others which have not been mentioned) are performed by “a licensed practitioner of the healing arts towards maintenance, improvement or protection of health or lessening of illness, disability, or pain.” In other words, in every one of these procedures, the fetus is the patient.

It might be possible to argue a fetus who is treated as a patient or recipient of medical care must also be given the same right to life as any other patient. I shall, however, argue for something simpler: that the granting of patienthood to the fetus deals a fatal blow to at least two of the most common pro-abortion arguments, namely, “My body, my choice,” and “Abortion is healthcare.”

‘My body, My choice’

As I said at the outset, if the fetus is a mere clump of cells and a part of the mother’s body, she has every right to undergo a medical procedure and have it removed; after all, a person has every right to remove a mole, a wart, or an appendix.

The problem, however, is if the fetus were just another part of the female body undergoing a medical procedure, why do we treat it as a distinct patient? Do we consider a woman’s heart as a distinct patient when she undergoes cardiac surgery? Do we consider her bones to be individual patients when they undergo diagnostic tests or orthopedic surgery? Of course not! In both cases, it is the woman who is the patient; the organs can never be considered to be patients in their own right, for their treatment is aimed towards the overall physiological welfare of the woman.

Yet we have seen several tests and procedures aimed at the overall physiological welfare of the fetus. A fetus cannot be a mere ‘part’ of the female body, for mere parts and organs are not patients. And if this is true, then abortion is not merely a medical procedure like an appendectomy where a woman chooses to have part of her body removed, but a deliberate elimination of a distinct organism who is a potential patient at the time of elimination.

The ‘my body, my choice’ argument, at least as it is used today, collapses on its face, for it relies on an equivocation between the fetus and the parts of a woman’s body; and our granting of patienthood to the former and not the latter indicates any such equivocation is false. Mind you, my argument is not all fetuses are patients and hence ‘My body, my choice’ fails; rather, it is the fact every fetus has the capacity to be treated as a distinct patient right from the first trimester, hence one cannot treat it like the rest of the female’s organs.

‘Abortion is healthcare.’

The second argument has become a refrain on Planned Parenthood’s social media. “ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE,” they write repeatedly, as if tweeting a baseless proposition in all-caps somehow transmogrifies it into a cogent argument. The question is, is that statement even remotely true? Let’s get something out of the way: abortion, if performed to save the life of the mother, is a life-saving procedure which I would grant to be healthcare.

Most abortions, however, are done for reasons of convenience, and not when the life of the mother is in imminent danger. Reframing the question, are the vast majority of abortions healthcare? No, they are not. Given the potential patienthood of every fetus, it is absurd to argue eliminating it simply because another potential patient feels her well-being will be improved by its elimination somehow transforms murder into ‘healthcare.’ Would it ever make sense for me to ask my physician to end the life of a healthy human, a potential patient, because its elimination is what I consider will make my life more convenient? I always thought this was what paid assassins do, and that is certainly not healthcare.

I can imagine the pro-abortion side attempting to make up all kinds of criteria to deny the potential patienthood of the fetus at the point they wish to allow for abortions. But as Ben Shapiro points out, every time you draw a line before which abortion is justified, you are drawing a false line which can also be applied to those in later stages of life; whether it be an argument from dependency, location, or physiological functions like heartbeat or brain function.

Allowing the mother to bestow patienthood to the child when she wishes does not help either, because wantedness is too subjective a criteria to determine whether another human life deserves to keep its legal rights or have them taken away.

Hence, as long as the fetus is a potential patient, abortion-on-demand is not healthcare. Chemotherapy is healthcare because cancer is an ailment. Psychotherapy is healthcare because depression is an ailment. Abortion is not healthcare because life is not an ailment. The purpose of healthcare is to maintain and improve the health of patients and not to eliminate one patient for the convenience of the other.

After all, I presume that is implied when a doctor swears to “not play at God.”

Unless, of course, the Babylon Bee was not being satirical when it said that certain doctors (allow me to name-drop Willie Parker, self-styled ‘Christian’ and abortion-provider extraordinaire) think they actually swore a “hypocritical oath” rather than the Hippocratic Oath, thereby allowing them to swear to save people and then turn around and kill them. Now that is something that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

How Fetal Patienthood Spells Trouble For 'Pro-Choice' Arguments
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