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Thursday, August 25, 2005


Readers of the New York Times probably noticed an article yesterday indicating that human fetuses feel no pain until after the 29th week. Now, I'll be honest,I never really considered this question, but after reading the article, I can understand why the study seemed to be necessary:

The finding poses a direct challenge to proposed federal and state laws that would compel doctors to tell women having abortions at 20 weeks or later that their fetuses can feel pain and to offer them anesthesia specifically for the fetus.

About 1.3 million abortions a year are performed in the United States, 1.4 percent of them at 21 weeks or later.

Bills requiring that women be warned about fetal pain have been introduced in the House and Senate and in 19 states, and recently passed in Georgia, Arkansas and Minnesota. The bills are supported by many anti-abortion groups. But advocates for abortion rights say the real purpose of the measures is to discourage women from seeking abortions. It is too soon to tell what effect the new laws are having in abortion clinics.


The federal legislation, introduced by Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, in 2004 and again this year as the "Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act," says there is "substantial evidence" of "substantial pain to an unborn child" during abortions performed after 20 weeks. The bill includes a script doctors must read to women, offering to deliver anesthesia directly to the fetus and stating, "The Congress of the United States has determined that at this stage of development, an unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain."

Mr. Brownback said he hoped Congress would act on the bill sometime next year. "It is one of the top priorities of the pro-life movement to address this issue," he said.

I'd like to think that this study will help support the pro-choice position but I really don't think it will. See, if you're already pro-choice then this study just minimally reinforces your position. If you're on the fence, this isn't the issue that's going to sway you. I mean, really, you're probably not holding back because you're worried about whether or not the fetus can feel pain. And, of course, it you're a pro-lifer, this is just going to piss you off more.

"It isn't whether or not they can feel pain," you'll shout, "It's a human being! Is it okay to kill someone in their sleep, just because they won't feel it?!"

To which I shake my head wearily and sigh. I'm pleased this study was done as I always think humans can benefit from expanded knowledge of the world. Despite the fact that this pain-information legislation would only impact 1.4 percent of the abortions performed yearly, I sadly recognize the need to toe a firm line in the pro-choice/pro-life street fight. The religious right has made it perfectly clear that they are not going to settle for anything short of an outright theocracy so moderation in some debates is just not an option. I just have a sneaking suspicion that whatever positive effect this study has in defeating the bogus pain legislation, that good will be overwhelmed by the extent to which it encourages the pro-lifers to regard pro-choicers as heartless monsters. Because if you are in favor of choice it is clearly because you don't care about human life- obviously it isn't out of concern for the women who will die if abortion is made illegal again. Clearly we aren't interested in enabling people to take responsibility for their reproduction.

In short, after this report it isn't the fetuses who are feeling pain- it's those of us involved in this accursed debate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i bet the iraqi "insurgents" feel pain when they're enveloped in burning napalm. maybe someone should do a study on that, and enact some "war pain" legislation. that should make the pro-lifers feel useful.

Thursday, August 25, 2005 6:52:00 PM  

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