Debate over fetal ‘viability’ reignited as technology advances

by HUB Newsfeed

An American law professor and former federal prosecutor writes in an Op/Ed for CNN that advances in technology, specifically the increasing ability of modern medicine to keep pre-term fetuses alive outside the womb, should spur corresponding changes in abortion law that would criminalize abortions earlier and earlier, based on the technology available at the time. While he doesn’t suggest how far he is willing to take his argument, specifically, whether women are just expected to sit back and watch as abortion rights shrink more and more as men’s technology and the male medical machine advance, he does make sure to mention that he’s “pro-choice” and a “progressive” about a dozen times.

From the article:

We are also haunted by the ragged remains of the Supreme Court opinion in Roe v. Wade. Despite being disavowed by subsequent opinions and some of the individual justices, one part of that precedent lives on in the statutes of some states and the practices of several doctors: The assertion in Roe’s majority opinion that “viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks).”

The scientific claim that viability (the ability of a fetus to live outside the womb) “usually” occurs at 28 weeks has been undermined by medical advances over the past 38 years.

Children who would have died if born late in the second trimester in 1973 would more than likely live if they were born now. A Swedish study in 2009 found that preterm babies born late in the second trimester who are given intensive care survive at surprising rates: 53% of those born at 23 weeks live, 67% at 24 weeks, and by 25 weeks, 82% of the babies survive. (Sweden’s health care system makes it possible to reliably track survival rates, but the type of care provided there is similar to that available in the United States).

In the same way that the law had to change to accommodate advances in DNA evidence that can exonerate those on death row, state laws must change to accommodate that with modern medical care, a child born at 27 weeks is very likely not only going to live, but live a fairly normal life.

Yes that’s right: abortion, a women’s rights issue and a reproductive health issue, involving multiple overlapping male-centric institutions and systems of patriarchal oppression — specifically medicine, religion and law — specifically designed to subjugate women on the basis of our sex, is exactly like men wrongly convicted of violent crimes and must be treated as such. And I guess in his analogy, the fetus is the criminal wrongly imprisoned, and male technology must be allowed to save him. And clearly, the woman is the state, from which our fetus, uh, male protagonist must be saved.

There are obvious problems, of course, with framing the abortion problem in male-centric terms, and the problem is that it’s absurd, reductionist, misogynistic, and doesn’t really capture the essence of the problem (from women’s perspective) and utterly fails to get at the heart of the matter, again and again.

And the essence of the problem is that women are being subjected to PIV and impregnated, whether they want to be or not, and men have set up their institutions to attach to women’s lives and bodies at the moment of conception, in ways that these institutions never attach to male bodies and men’s lives. And pregnancy can be a dangerous medical event that’s expensive, time consuming, and interferes with a woman’s ability to work and fulfill pre-existing obligations, such as caring for existing children or aging parents, or herself.

And in the case of technology and viability specifically, men control the technology that’s going to make pre-term fetuses increasingly “viable” with no foreseeable endpoint, and they will stop advancing that technology when they want to. Men control the relevant technology, not women, so if abortion rights are tied to technological advances redefining “viability” then women’s abortion rights are subjected to men’s whims and are on a steady decline with no end in sight. This is unacceptable. And as men largely control fertility and reproduction too, being that they are the ones impregnating women through mandatory PIV and rape, it seems even more clear that the issue of women’s “choice” really isn’t; the issue of abortion and reproductive rights is an issue of men’s choice. This is clearly the truth of the matter, and again, it is unacceptable.

This business with “viability” and the ways men’s legal and medical systems overlap makes it all too clear that it’s men’s intention to control women through patriarchal institutions and overlapping systems of male power, via women’s ability to become impregnated and to reproduce, no matter what. This is just more of the same, and it’s not a valid reason, from women’s perspective, or even from an egalitarian perspective, to further restrict our access to abortion.

–HUB Newsfeed

Cross-posted from Radfem News Service

32 Comments to “Debate over fetal ‘viability’ reignited as technology advances”

  1. It really pisses me off that we seem to need (often) male intervention in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It shouldn’t be this way, and I suspect that ages ago, there were herbs which women used to control this but men found out about them and completely exterminated the offending plants.

    Whether or not the woman wants the fetus seems to have become a non-issue.

    All “progressives” who hate women are phonies.

  2. yes the herb “rue” was a widely used abortificant in France. It was outlawed during the nineteenth century so that men could control women’s fertility. Even so, until the early twentieth century women would still gather it in the mountains and sell it illegally at the markets.

  3. There’s a discussion going on at one of the libdude blogs wher they are tying themselves in knots over the question of sex-selective abortion. That is, from their “progressive” (male) point of view they know that being one of the right-on guys means they have to be for abortion, but they are supposed to make some token effort to acknowledge girls are as valuable as boys … so oh woe how do they reconcile this idea ?

    I found it interesting because it underlines how much the issue is viewed from the male perspective, whereas to a woman in that situation who is suffering a forced and unwanted pregnancy the choice is not abort or live happily ever after with precious girl child, the real choice is abort or continue with all the physical (and social) risks of the pregnancy, to then give birth to a female child who will then be neglected, abused, or just outright murdered and the continuing risks to the mother’s safety and welfare as well.

    To them it is a clash of hypotheticals, to women it is life and death, survival, and an attempt to grasp at any tiny straw of human bodily autonomy that might seem to exist.

  4. If there was such thing as a non-patriarchal world I guess unwanted PIV wouldn’t even exist, and abortion wouldn’t be needed.

  5. why didnt he just say that we need to revisit the “viability” issue in light of recent technological advances, without proposing that we restrict abortion MOAR? that was completely unnecessary. he couldve also proposed, couldnt he, that in whatever context anyone even discusses it anymore, or bases restrictions on the viability language (not all states do) that we use it to mean viability in real life, “in the absence of the male medical machine?” and in that case, the restrictions would be kept the same as they are now. im not suggesting that any restrictions are reasonable, merely pointing out that they just never think that way. there are many different ways this article couldve been written, and he chose to argue in favor of more restrictions. he couldve also just as easily argued that all of these restrictions are completely male-centric (or completely arbitrary) anyway so why dont we just get rid of them all? BUT NO. they just never say that ever.

  6. Reproductive technology is skeeving me out in a way I don’t know how to discuss anywhere else. To be blunt, all the lesbians I know who are conceiving, eagerly anticipating, and reveling in the births of sons via IVF/AI are kind of breaking my heart right now. How women who fight so hard to live as women-loving women in this world willingly fork over their creative energy and financial stability (even entire life savings!!) to love a little boy into manhood…I have trouble finding the words for the strange sadness it brings me.

  7. The vast majority of abortions are done in the first trimester – which is the first 12 weeks. Even 35 years ago, few doctors would perform a post trimester abortion unless there was just cause – such as the fetus being defective or if the mother’s life was in danger. So what are these cretins babbling on about?

    My first daughter was born at 26 weeks and weighed 3.5 lbs. Her heart stopped twice and she had to be in an oxygen tent for the first 24 hours Other than that, she was perfectly healthy. She is now 32 years old. Obviously 26 week fetuses were viable even back then and required very little medical intervention. So like I said, what are these cretins babbling on about?

    I also had a miscarriage at the 12 week mark. When the hospital couldn’t find the fetus on the ultrasound, the doctor told me to go look in the toilet. I must’ve expelled it there. So there I stood, studying the hospital toilet. I looked and looked but I didn’t see anything which even vaguely resembled a human being. So finally I asked the doctor, “What am I looking for?” He said, “A plug of mucous, no bigger than a quarter.” Excuse me? A plug of mucous? This is what the abortion issue is all about?! Snot?! To listen to pro-lifers, you’d think there was a baby in there complete with diapers and rattle. So to sum up the abortion issue, pro-lifers apparently believe that snot is more human and should have more respect and rights than women. Their misogyny isn’t too transparent, is it?

    In the meanwhile, the law professor – and all men, for that matter, should stick to what they know about. Which is basically nothing.

  8. yes, they just cant stand the thought that there are some women who might not fit in their nice clean boxes with their arbitrary (but CLEAN) definitions. if there were no restrictions on abortion at all, there would be a FEW late term abortions, but probably not that many more than there are now, bc why bother? i mean really. its not like its not going to hurt, and its not like theres going to be no downtime. and youve already been pregnant for what, 7 months? its not like having an abortion at that point would turn back time, or make you never-pregnant-in-the-first-place, which is what most women in this position want and its what medicine so far has been unable (unwilling) to give them. abortion isnt magic, its just a painful, bloody and expensive medical procedure that the male medical machine makes money from. and women are STILL subjected to the will and whims of the docs anyway, bc as you say, there arent even that many docs who will do a later term abortion.

    men wank off to these hypos, its so obvious. mental masturbation, if not physical, but likely both. thats what this is to them. put women in this situation in the first place, then watch us scurry around like rats trying to minimize the harm to ourselves while still having to play by their rules. its so sick. men are so sick.

  9. I don’t understand why there is a fuss about the viability question. If the fetus is so viable, then, remove it and let the people who care about the fetus pay for it’s medical care and raise it should it really survive. Survivable means that it no longer needs the support of a woman’s body.

  10. It shouldn’t even come into the fucking equation. What is inside my body is my property. It belongs to me. It feeds from me. I am responsible for it’s very existence. Organs, cells, cancer and any life forms. MINE. It is inside me and I should have the ultimate decision as to what happens to it whilst it is feeding from my very being until it is expelled from me either voluntarily by me or naturally via birth.

  11. That goes for dicks as well. Anything inside me is my property and I will do with it as I will with the full force of the law behind me.

  12. I am torn, as usual. Removing a fetus that is “viable” and letting “the people who care about the fetus pay for its medical care” still doesn’t take into account the revolutionary potential of mothering and that our bodies, as women, have the potential to create life. We shouldn’t give that up at all. Whilst the fact that it is women who use their bodies to create life has meant oppression, it doesn’t have to be so (I am thinking fondly of some of Firestone’s take on this). The reason why I am uneasy about that is from another blog that talks about uterus implants …. in relation to men taking control over (re)production the implications are very serious. Sustaining life outside of a woman’s body because medical intervention allows for it has many more social implications than the medical approach will have us belieeve. Just because a fetus can be nurtured outside of the womb does not make it ok. It could turn into another attempt to usurp women’s life-creating powers (like uterus implants). BUT. I also know the dangers of such utopia of these arguments, and am not at all suggesting that we embrace our (re)productive capacities uncritically, and dane naked around a fire in the full moon. Just that we should be careful about ANY way in which reproduction is removed from our bodies. Removing it from our bodies, does not, as we know, remove it from our minds.

  13. absolutely yttik. female animals kill their young all the time and there is no moral culpability for that, its just the way it is, yet there is no room for that in mens reality. its not the same as doing it out of anger or jealousy or for sport or any of the reasons men kill women, children, animals and everything and everyone else, yet those are the things they have built their legal system to deal with. of course, when a perfectly nurturing and responsible woman leaves her loved, wanted or at least “accepted” baby alone with a man bc she has to go to work, and the man kills it, she is responsible for that too. because SHE shouldve known better…than to leave a child alone with a man, apparently. although we arent allowed to talk about how violent men are, or that they kill babies and children all the time, and often rape and torture them as well. this is the elephant in the room WRT the differences bw “violent” women and violent men, and yet its never discussed.

    and yes, the viability framework, like all male centric frameworks applied to womens reality, is not the point. it is so, so so NOT THE POINT at all. men created this hell women have to negotiate daily, and this is mens fault. if there are not enough resources to go around, that is mens fault. but their systems are not set up to address whose fault it really is, only to blame those who are powerless to change it.

  14. @Sydney: What is inside my body is my property. It belongs to me……… Organs, cells, cancer and any life forms. MINE. It is inside me and I should have the ultimate decision as to what happens to it whilst it is feeding from my very being until it is expelled from me either voluntarily by me or naturally via birth.”

    *nodding*. Spot on. Men don’t care about “life”, they care about control of it. Its not whether it is killing or not, it is about *who* gets to make the decision. Few care too much about miscarriages (ie ‘natural’ abortions). Because nobody made a life or death decision. It was “God’s Will” or “Nature’s Way”.

    During the witchcraze, women who naturally aborted were burned, and/or single women who happened to be in the neighbourhood were burned for sending the the ‘Evil Eye’ on the pregnant woman. In Roman imperial times, men or ‘patriarchs’ could order their wives. concubines, slaves etc to have abortions. Plenty of men still do. Its ‘Father Right’, He, and only He, can be be allowed to make the decision. Only men have the Right-to-Choose. Giving the woman rights in making the decision, is the true Sin.

  15. Yes, preventing us from killing the fetuses/babies has nothing to do with viability from men’s POV. NOTHING is viable in men’s world since it’s all based on destruction, as you said, men kill, torture and rape for sports all the time, come on, they can’t make us gob the lie that they care about life all of a sudden. Men also sterilise women at will, and force women to abort too when it’s in their interest.
    No, what matters is that only they have the right to kill: they have to keep absolute monopoly over it, and keep absolute sovereignty over women’s bodies and their “products” (babies) lest they lose the reason for which they created patriarchy in the first.

  16. Oops just read your comment rain, kind of repeated what yyou said. But yes, that’s totally the point, it’s just about control, of them never losing the grip over female chattel. That’s why they created this system for. That’s why they occupy our bodies all the time and make us living dead corpses, to be used, fucked, impregnated, fucked again.

  17. Witchwind said, “it’s just about control, of them never losing the grip over female chattel….”

    Men don’t do human maintenance so is there any other reason men would want children other than to control women through them? But it goes a little deeper than that. As mentioned in Robin Morgan’s “The Demon Lover,” the word “family” is rooted in the Oscan “famel” meaning “servant” or “slave.” IOWs, a possession. “Father” derives from “pater” meaning “owner” or “master.” Thus the Latin term “pater familias,” which in English = “family man” or literally, “owner of slaves.” Think about that the next time you hear some conservative jackass spew his vomit about “family values” and clucking about how the sky will fall without them. What he literally advocates is slavery. Specifically, the enslavement of women and children with men positioned as their owners and masters.

    Slaves are commodities to be bought, sold, traded and owned. Which translates into value in terms of money and power and thus status among men. Owning slaves frees up men’s time and grants them leisure as slaves now do most of his work. Time is arguably the most valuable commodity of all. And that is what men steal from women most of all. Their time. Men enslave women to steal their time and energy so men can transfer it over to themselves which grants men more time, energy and leisure than ever before. Conversely, women’s time diminishes in direct proportion to men’s gain of it.

    Now we’re getting a little bit closer to the root of why it’s so important for men to control reproduction. The control of reproduction = more slaves which translates into more status, more money, more power, more time, more leisure for men.

    I’m still exploring this avenue so feel free to expand on it and run with it.

  18. lucky, i think you are right on. in caliban and the witch, the authors explore how it was necessary for the state to gain control over reproduction to create a labor force to support the new capitalist system. the nuclear family is a tinier but similar structure i think. same idea with catholicism (for example) that grants men total sexual access to women, then condemns contraceptive use and abortion: they need more catholics. its literally all about creating more slaves, or at least creating vast armies through which you can recreate your own value system and reproduce existing power structures that benefit you and others like you, forever. and obviously theres the plantation economy, and male slaveowners demanding and taking sexual access to female slaves via rape. there are many examples that make “reproduction” and what that means very clear. theres a reproduction of genetic material of course, but other things are reproduced too, including labor, familial wealth, political power structures, and tremendous death and suffering, including female-specific death and suffering but also the more general kind, and death and suffering is what men seem to like best.

  19. Interesting. These are actually the observations that lead me to feminism, that everything was built on this master/slave relationship, at the root of the patriarchal capitalist system (I believe patriarchy is inherently capitalist, where the women was the first object of exchange between men > creation of nuclear family, and everything else is built on the top of it like a mega-nuclear family complex).

    But I see the cause-effect of reproduction for more slaves as the other way round: aim = control of reproduction and of creative power, and the means = system of slavery. Slaves, status, power, money, are the necessary tools to keep this artificial hold over the creative power, to be (or pretend to be) the creating and allpowerful gods they dream to be. The class/slavery system between men is what allows them to create this vertical hierarchical structure which is all-powerful, all-encompassing and controlling, and so big we can’t attack it. If they didn’t have this militaristic slave-like exploitative class system they wouldn’t be able to build all these fortresses, warmachines, massive towns, weapons of mass destruction, mass organisations of fake wealth and status based on real destruction, control all knowledge and culture, create these vast institutions of endoctrination like religion> this structure benefits all men as a whole because it’s what protects patriarchy from attack, to prevent women from resisting.

    Putting it the other way round: seeing slave-making as the *end*, and reproduction *only* as a means to make new slaves, doesn’t make sense IMO cause that would mean women wouldn’t be the enemy against which men are fighting. And I don’t think it’s the case, I think women are the enemy of men in this system and every single thing they built is according to this will to control the power to create.

  20. well there are 2 parts to it of course: mens institutions and power structures both harm women, and increase and support male power. the reproducing-slaves part, and how that reproduces existing power structures, is an obvious illustration of men supporting male power through the PIV-as-sex paradigm. the harms to women of the PIV-as-sex paradigm are obvious, but no one wants to admit to acknowledge them.

    theres also an increase in mens relative power to women, as womens power is decreased in various ways. but the reproducing-slaves aspect causes an increase and magnification of male power all by itself too.

  21. anyway, i agree that its not only possible but probable that the entire point, and motivation/intention behind the PIV-as-sex paradigm was mens desire to control women, and to harm them via the penis. the result, many many unwanted pregnancies and births, would be an obvious and predictable side-effect from that that they could then harness to their own benefit, in whatever ways they wanted to.

  22. and now that i think about it, caliban and the witch wasnt a radical feminist text. the authors seem to have failed to grasp the concept of “reproductive harm” via the penis for example, and uncritically framed PIV as “sex” when they focused on the emergence of anti-abortion social controls and propaganda in the beginning of capitalism. women were still being impregnated against their wills before that, which is harmful to women. they fell into the same trap as all liberals, in focusing on abortion/contraception and not unwanted pregnancy and PIV.

  23. thank you for such an interesting discussion. I can’t bear this subject, simply can’t stomach it, so I’ve stayed away, but I’ve enjoyed (in a sense) reading the comments.

  24. I have a theory that patriarchy has a vested interest in creating as many neglected and deprived children as possible. Mothers have so few resources and yet they’re supposed to somehow single-handedly raise the next generation mentally sound. It’s an impossible task. In the UK, mothers who “can’t cope” ( a disgusting term if ever I heard one) are not offered extra financial or emotional support like they would be in a caring society. What actually happens is their children are taken off them and put into care. As we saw recently in Ireland hundreds and hundreds of little boys and girls who had been put into care were sexually abused by the priests who were supposed to be caring for them. Those kids turned into hundreds of desperate, angry adults. The prospects of children raised “in care” are very bleak indeed. They fail at school and don’t have the skills to enter the workforce, because without a mother’s one to one attention they just don’t have the werewithall to make it. Desperate, angry men are dangerous to society, especially to women and children, and so it comes a full circle.
    [disclaimer: some people who have been raised in care do manage to do well for themselves, I’m just criticizing the system]

  25. yes of course! all men benefit from creating hordes of damaged children. we know by now that damaged and abused girl-children have problems later in life that cause them to be “unsuccessful” at work and in school, for example, so they arent competing with men in those areas, which benefits men. and “unsuccess” for women means sexual slavery many times, whether its being tied to one man in marriage, or all men as “public women” and prostituted women and porn-actors. and we know that sexually abused girls become promiscuous later in life. all of this tangibly and demonstrably benefits men.

    whether or not men are damaged themselves as boys, they grow up to damage others, and they have a huge pool of potential victims they can CHOOSE to victimize or not. thats where their male privilege comes in, and thats why they ultimately dont want child abuse or sexual child abuse to end. theres an obvious conflict of interest there, like there always is, which noone wants to admit bc its too terrible to think about, and casts men in a very unflattering light.

  26. I say, we are all dancing around the issue by talking about whether it’s a life or not. The truth is, NONE of us know whether it’s a life becuase it’s too ambiguous and we dont’ even have a proper definition of life (is it the presence of some kind of soul? Heartbeat? brain waves?)

    The truth is that women should be able to abort WHETHER OR NOT it’s a life. This is what we’ve all been afraid to say- that even if it IS a life, we STILL have the right to abort, because the pain and torture of an unwanted pregnancy or a very painful birth (caused by patriarchal medicine) is WORSE THAN BEING ABORTED. They are trying to box us in, away from that truth, by making this an issue of life and death, and by trying to trick us into saying that death is unequivocally bad. Some things are worse than death, but our patriarchal society doesnt’ respect that (partially because Death is synonymous with Eternity and the Feminine for them and they don’t like it).

    The WORST thing in the world is being treated like a second class citizen, like an incubator, not death. I’d rather die than live life as a FemCubator.

  27. @cherryblossomlife: “I have a theory that patriarchy has a vested interest in creating as many neglected and deprived children as possible. Mothers have so few resources and yet they’re supposed to somehow single-handedly raise the next generation mentally sound.”

    That’s exactly right on both counts. And I’m interested in what we (women as a class and specific women) can do to address those things beyond demanding and enacting reproductive rights.

  28. “Noanodyne
    February 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm
    @cherryblossomlife: “I have a theory that patriarchy has a vested interest in creating as many neglected and deprived children as possible. Mothers have so few resources and yet they’re supposed to somehow single-handedly raise the next generation mentally sound.”
    That’s exactly right on both counts. And I’m interested in what we (women as a class and specific women) can do to address those things beyond demanding and enacting reproductive rights.”

    We can demand homseschooling so that mothers can teach children GOOD morals.

    We can elicit money under the guise of “religious education” (or lie and make up some “worthy” cause in the opinion of the patriarchy). We can sell people, say, cross necklaces, and tell them the money is for children and education and for Chrtistian values, and then use the money to help ourselves and our homeschooling or whatever efforts-

    even better, stand outside a Catholic Church and collect money “to protect the children from Unchristian influence” (well, what men do to women IS unChristian, isn’t it?) and give the money to black single moms!

  29. The problem with homeschooling is that it ties women to children for X amount of years. There are plenty of political solutions. In the short term, for example, a socialist-type society like Japan works out well for mothers in some ways. All schools are safe, clean and good. There’s no class division between schools like there is in the UK; there are no “sink schools”. All kids wear a uniform. I think distributing wealth is a good, short-term solution and *tends* to be better for women than individualist politics. It’s not the end point, though, because it’s only a fluke that socialism works out well for women; it’s not *for* women. Pooling society’s resources works up to a point, but men are still on top, still leaching off women, and that has got to go.
    In Japan the birth rate is the lowest in the world and so it’s interesting to see that because children are so scarce, politicians set aside quite a lot of money for mothers. This is a good start. WOmen who risk their life to give birth *should* be valued properly by society. The problem is it’s *still* not enough to off-set the fact that women lose their freedom, their job prospects, and have to be tied to a man for 18 years or so. Despite cash incentives encouraging them to have children, Japanese women are still saying “No”. Even so, it’s good to see that in a society where children are scarce, they *are* valued more, and more resources are invested in each particular child. The biggest problem I have with the financial help, ideologically speaking, is that the politicians are worried about the Japanese nation, and the Japanese race; they don’t *actually* give a fuck about women, of course. THey just don’T understand why the baby machines aren’t doing their jobs properly. I swear to GOd, it never ceases to amaze me how little men in power know about their own people.

    It makes me sick to see men having long business lunches in restaurants, with their porches parked outside, while women are struggling at the bus stop with shopping bags full of food hanging off their strollers. Women have zilch. And no, this is not penis envy (!) speaking; this is anger at the fact that men are happily oppressing their own mothers.

  30. All the work or raising, educating, and nurturing children shouldn’t fall to just bio or adoptive/foster mothers or designated caretakers. The patriarchy has positioned children as individual and individuals’ property and men as the property owners, with women as their designated child-minders. My interest is in how we can change all that. Rather than going along with the idea that it is one woman’s job to overcome all that crap, and only for her own children (or those she is hired to do that with), through homeschooling or whatever, I’d rather see us come up with ideas for how we’re going to see the whole thing differently and do something about it collectively.

  31. The short-term solution is socialism.

  32. @Isis ingenious raise money tell them it’s for some popular cause actually give it all to black single mothers. But if you get caught would they get you for charity fraud even though it went to a different cause? I don’t see sympathy if you got caught just by the book absolutists.

    @Men tacitly admit to this with their ‘jokes’ shows like how I met your mother (I hate that show, not just because of the dickheaded male characters and the often male identified female characters but it’s just so obnoxious
    and not funny). The fact the throwaway ‘sleeping with the womanizer because I have daddy issues’ characters are even in the script tells me they know men/fathers mess many women up so that act out promiscuity….and that’s funny. They know, they know.

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