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Prenatal Bureaucracy Hinders Women’s Rights

House bill passed in good faith, but without strong scientific backing

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Prenatal Bureaucracy Hinders Women’s Rights

Sarah Reinbrecht, Scarlet Staff

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On Oct. third, the House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Essentially, the bill bans abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for when the mother’s life is threatened or in cases of rape or incest. Additionally, the bill would require an abortion to be done in a way that ensures the greatest chances of the unborn child surviving, as well as the presence of “a second physician trained in neonatal resuscitation,” the Washington Post reports. President Trump supports the bill. Though this bill may seem as though it has good intentions, it is just another example of primarily male lawmakers interfering with a woman’s right to an abortion.

It is important to understand that, according to Planned Parenthood, almost 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks. Further, when abortions are done after 20 weeks, they are not done simply because a woman no longer wants to be pregnant; they are done because of “complex circumstance” such as “severe fetal anomalies and serious risks to the women’s health,” Planned Parenthood explains. Planned Parenthood has numerous stories on their website about women having to abort a wanted child because of severe fetal defects. In these situations, women need to have every option available to them, a view supported by Planned Parenthood. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act limits women’s options when they need them the most.

Additionally, the bill does not prioritize the mother. It does admittedly allow for an abortion when her life is threatened, but it forces doctors to proceed with the abortion in the best way for the child instead of the mother. Further, as previously explained, abortions completed after 20 weeks are almost always done for serious medical reasons. It can be emotionally difficult for women to undergo an abortion, even if they believe it is the best decision. This bill would make it more difficult for women to get an abortion by requiring an additional doctor to be present and by forcing the mother to navigate bureaucratic rules, compounding their emotional pain.

The bill and its creators are also misguided in how they are trying to protect fetuses. Vox reports that the bill is based on the idea that fetuses at that age can feel pain. However, based on current research, fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks. The New York Times cites a study that says fetuses likely become capable of feeling pain at about 27 weeks. It is respectable that politicians are trying to minimize suffering for the fetus, but it is flawed to support and advocate for a bill that does not prioritize scientific, factual information. Arguably, a ban on abortions completed after 20 weeks may even cause greater harm to the child; the mother may have to make arrangements to obtain the abortion elsewhere, thus delaying the abortion and possibly having the abortion at a time when the fetus can feel pain. Or, the fetus may be born and may be subject to pain and suffering because of the birth defects that led the mother to seek an abortion.

Finally, Planned Parenthood cites evidence that a majority of voters (61 percent) believe abortion should be legal after 20 weeks. Additionally, most voters, regardless of political affiliation, believe this is the wrong issue for lawmakers to spend time on. Ideally, abortions after 20 weeks would not happen. But because our world is not perfect, we need to ensure that mothers and doctors are able to do what is best for the mother and the fetus.



2 Responses to “Prenatal Bureaucracy Hinders Women’s Rights”

  1. Miffed Cricket on November 5th, 2017 2:51 pm

    A few points, Sarah: there is no “current research” indicating that unborn children cannot feel pain at 20 weeks.

    Quite the contrary. An article published last year in the Journal of Pain Research suggests that “the fetus is exposed to rudimentary painful stimuli starting from the 15th gestation week and that it is extremely sensitive to painful stimuli.” There is a great deal of research supporting the likelihood of fetal pain (Anand, Merker, Salomons, Iannetti, Bellieni, Van de Velde, and others) from previous years as well. I should know: I wrote my thesis on the topic.

    By contrast, the study cited by the New York Times does NOT suggest 27 weeks as the earliest onset of fetal awareness of pain, because there is no such study. You’re thinking of Lee and colleagues (2005), which suggested fetal pain at “around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available.” You’ve probably conflated this with RCOG’s 2010 study, which stated outright that “Interpretation of existing data indicates” fetal pain processing “cannot occur before 24 weeks of gestation…” These are the most recent and most frequently cited skeptical research articles on the topic.

    Their conclusions of fetal pain differ by up to 6 weeks, however! More importantly, their conclusions are based not on science but supposition–that is, they assume that a functional, mature cerebral cortex is necessary for pain perception. This has not been demonstrated but is, as one RCOG (2010) author told me, merely “axiomatic”. Worse, this axiom has been steadily contradicted since at least Penfield and Jasper’s work in the 1950s, and more recently by Aleman and Merker (2014) and Feinstein (2016).

    Incidentally, fetal anesthesia for therapeutic (i.e., non-abortive) surgery at 20 weeks’ gestation is the medical standard. Why anesthesia versus a simple paralytic? Because the child stands a significant risk of developing post-traumatic neurological and psychological sequelae following fetal surgery without it. That is, the child remembers the trauma of her non-anesthetized surgery, if only subconsciously.

    Also, FDA and other animal welfare regulations require anesthesia for animals likely to undergo painful or distressing treatment, and these regulations define behaviors known to indicate that animals are in pain or other distress. Likewise, 20-week and even 18-week fetuses respond vigorously to being poked by needles: their heart rates and breathing rates increase, they release stress hormones, and they try to avoid the needles. By the standards of U.S. and international animal welfare regulations, fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and deserve anesthesia.

    So. Despite fervent proclamations to the contrary, there is excellent evidence–medical, legal, experiential–that fetuses feel pain and deserve anesthesia, which they would receive under any circumstance other than abortion. We require no less for any non-human vertebrate.

    The obvious question is, How, then, could there be any right to deprive an unborn 20-week child of anesthesia for surgery, much less kill her?

  2. Miffed Cricket on November 5th, 2017 3:00 pm

    I should add: I recognize that Pam Belluck, in the NYT article, cites Mark Rosen as suggesting the onset of fetal pain is “unlikely before the third trimester, which begins at about 27 weeks”, but his (and Lee’s) article actually says “around 29 to 30 weeks…”, as I cited.

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Prenatal Bureaucracy Hinders Women’s Rights