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What is Viability?

In the realm of pregnancy services, the question “What is viability?” is a sensitive one. It is not a question that every woman wishes to explore. At the same time, there are women who feel that this question is relevant to their circumstances and decisions. They do want to better understand the issue of viability.

Avenue Women’s Center is committed to providing accurate information that meets the needs of Chicagoland women facing ill-timed pregnancies. If that is you, and you want to know more about viability, please continue reading, and then consider giving us a call. Whatever pregnancy decisions you are facing, we hope to be able to help you.

Human development is a continuing process, beginning when the embryo implants in the uterus of a woman and progressing into maturity. As such, it has no specific stages that can be identified in time during the process. However, there are some critical events during the process that are often used as benchmarks in the continuum that is development. Two common ones are measures of the developing capacity of the fetus. One of these is “quickening.” The other is “viability.” Quickening is the first detection of movement by the developing fetus. Viability is the capacity of the fetus to survive outside the womb if birth were to occur at that moment. The fetus is considered to be viable if it can survive and continue development in the extra-uterine environment.

It should be apparent that the timing of events like these will be very inexact. The specific timing of the stages in every pregnancy will be unique to that pregnancy. The term of a normal pregnancy can be anywhere from 37 to 42 weeks. In general, viability can be considered to exist after about 25 weeks. Even at this time, continued survival of the newborn will most likely depend on some extraordinary clinical intervention. Because of natural variability among pregnancies, survival is possible even a couple of weeks earlier, but in all cases of premature birth, intervention is essential if survival is to be achieved.

There is also an ethical dimension to the timing of viability. Over the years, as debates have been carried on concerning when human life begins, both viability and quickening have been proposed as possible times. However, neither can be established with any degree of accuracy and neither has gained any wide support among professionals in the field.

If you have opted to read this article, we wonder if you may be facing the possibility of a later term abortion. And, if that is the case, may we suggest that you consider starting at Avenue Women’s Center with one of the following:

  • Limited medical ultrasound. It is often a good idea to have a medical professional determine how far along you might be based on the measurements of structures they see during a limited medical ultrasound.
  • Genuine, supportive care. We believe it is always a good idea for a woman to have a caring professional on her side. Facing decisions like this are usually highly stressful. Time pressures, fears, and feelings of isolation can all press in. As a woman sorts through the decisions that are best for her, she deserves to feel excellently cared for.

At Avenue Women’s Center, we are here for you. Each of our offices – Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn / Lombard, Naperville, and Wood Dale, Illinois – is staffed with caring professionals. We sincerely hope this article has helped address your questions about viability. If you have additional questions, or we can assist you in navigating your pregnancy situation, we hope you will contact us.


  • NCBI: National Institutes of Health. (2001, January). Limits of fetal viability and its enhancement. Retrieved from:

Reviewed by Patricia Kuenzi, APN-CNP, MSN, ANP, PNP.

The information provided here is general in nature.  It is not a substitute for a consultation with a medical professional. Before any medical procedure, it is imperative that you discuss your personal medical history, risks, and concerns with your doctor. If you have questions during or after a procedure, your doctor should be immediately contacted. Avenue Women’s Center is not an emergency center.  If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as bleeding and/or pain, seek immediate medical attention.  Contact your physician, go to an emergency room, or call 911.