What Is the Age of Viability?

Did you know that the youngest surviving premature baby was born at 21 weeks gestation? Gestation is the term for the amount of time in pregnancy since the first day of the last period. While it is rare for a baby to survive outside the womb before around 24 weeks gestation, it does happen. The age of viability is relevant to discussions around abortion because of the fact that many states ban abortion based on gestational age, often using 24 weeks as the cutoff. Viability is an important factor for special interest groups on both sides.
The dictionary definition of viability is “the ability to survive or live successfully”. Globally, there is no specified understanding or cut-off designated as the age of viability. In the United States, the gestational age guidelines stem from the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973. The Supreme Court decided that the ability for a baby to survive outside the womb could happen as early as 24 weeks gestation.
There are several reasons why the age of viability is an important issue. First, there are differences in technological and biological advances when it comes to whether or not a baby is able to survive if born prematurely. Importantly, lack of access to high quality care and services plays a role in the likelihood of an infant’s survival if born early.
As mentioned above, it is very rare for a baby born before 24 weeks to survive outside of the womb without technological advancements. However, the fact that there are documented cases of extremely premature surviving causes problems for arguments advocating for specific guidelines for fetal viability. In many cases, the decision to decide whether a baby is viable rests in the doctor’s hands and not on a legal mandate.
The implications about the age of viability affects discussions on abortion in several ways. In Massachusetts, abortion currently is banned after 24 weeks gestation unless it’s to protect the life of the mother and/or deemed appropriate by a licensed physician. Babies that survive outside of the womb earlier than 24 weeks show that ethical considerations around abortion decisions even at 24 weeks need to be considered. In addition, the fact that the age of viability exists shows that a baby’s life and identity is recognized by the medical community. For those advocating for the value of unborn life, this is a talking point that takes the commonalities between groups – viability in this case – and promotes effective efforts to impact the legal and social viewpoint on abortion and life. Abortion and anti-abortion advocates agree with the fact that viability is an important marker in a woman’s pregnancy – it’s how they proceed with that information that differs.
Want to learn more about the age of viability and why it’s important for women’s health? Call, send an email, or book a free confidential consultation with our team at Clearway Clinic. We’re here to help you!

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