An Abortion Rights Question on the California Ballot Revives the Debate Over ‘Viability’

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Health

As California voters decide whether to amend their state constitution to explicitly protect abortion rights, lawmakers still do not agree on whether the amendment would enshrine those rights, which by state law allow abortion up to 24 weeks, or expand them, permitting abortions at any point in pregnancy, for any reason.

During the legislative debate over the amendment, dubbed Proposition 1 on the November ballot, there were several awkward moments after a question from Republicans stumped Democrats — most notably when Assembly member Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) posed it point-blank before the final vote in June. “California law generally bars the performance of an abortion past the point of fetal viability,” he said. “Would this constitutional amendment change that?”

The floor went quiet. For a full 30 seconds, no one said anything. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon whispered with Democratic colleagues, asked to have the question repeated, and then promised to answer later. He never did.

Viability has long been a controversial concept, plaguing ethicists on both sides of the abortion debate since it was embedded in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The Supreme Court justices wrote that a woman’s right to privacy was protected only up to viability — the point when a fetus is capable of “meaningful life outside the mother’s womb.” The court said that occurs between 24 and 28 weeks after conception.

Since then, many doct …

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