Roe vs. Wade established the right to terminate a pregnancy up until viability, the time when a fetus could survive outside of the uterus, generally believed to occur at 24 weeks. Before viability, a woman may abort for any reason. After viability, she may abort only if necessary to protect her life or health.
A new front has opened in the abortion wars with laws that ban abortion at 20 weeks on the ground that the fetus is then capable of feeling pain. Led by Nebraska in 2011, 10 states have passed such laws, and the Texas Legislature has recently considered doing so.
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John A. Robertson holds the Vinson and Elkins Chair at the University of Texas School of Law. He has written and lectured widely on law and bioethical issues, has served on or been a consultant to many national bioethics advisory bodies and is currently chairman of the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.