by Jodi Marlin for Catholic News Agency

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At 15 weeks’ gestation, a fetus responds to touch. The neurotransmitters and nerves needed to process and transmit pain signals have formed, and most of the spinal cord has hardened into bone.

As early as 21 weeks, the fetus can survive outside the womb.

None of these realities were known in 1971, when a case came before the Supreme Court that would ultimately give a mother the right to abort her unborn child.

During the past 50 years, advances regarding the biological genesis of humans have disproven the basis on which the court, in Roe v. Wade, presumed a lack of justifiability of a ban on abortions — except to save the live of the mother — that was in place in the defendant’s home state of Texas.

The court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide rested on the use of the word “person” in the 14th Amendment, which protects the mother’s privacy.

Notably, there was great disagreement over when an unborn child becomes a living being whose rights compete with those of the mother.

Since then, techniques in research tools and prenatal surgery, advancements in viability and the proliferation of support options for mothers with unexpected pregnancies have conspired to erode many of the arguments offered then and now for the right to terminate life in the womb.

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