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the question of fetal pain

June 27, 2011

I linked to this article on Facebook earlier, from the NYT on the recent spate of state laws prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks based on the claim that the fetus can feel pain at that point. It features the experience of Danielle and Robb Deaver who were recently denied an emergency abortion in Nebraska due to just such a law:

After 10 days of frustration and anguish, Ms. Deaver went into labor naturally; the baby died within 15 minutes and Ms. Deaver had to be treated with intravenous antibiotics for an infection that developed.

Ms. Deaver said she got angry only after the grief had settled. “This should have been a private decision, made between me, my husband and my doctor,” she said in a telephone interview.

The article thankfully makes clear that the scientific consensus is that a fetus is not able to feel pain until at least 24 weeks, if then. The central component in feeling pain is a cerebral cortex, which doesn’t exist until then. While evidence does show that a fetus at 20 weeks is capable of reflexively responding to physical stimuli, no evidence exists that it feels what we call pain. (Nor is what we call pain the same thing as suffering, which I suspect is what people who promote the fetal pain canard are trying to imply.)

Not only are these laws based on a lie, they go baldly across the line in the sand laid down by the Supreme Court that abortions cannot be banned until the fetus is viable outside the womb (24 weeks). And that’s because we’re talking about two lives with this issue, not just the fetus’, and why the fetal pain argument is a red herring. Even if it were true that a fetus could feel pain before 24 weeks, the fully-formed human being with a history, a future, friends,  family, and an unquestionable ability to suffer carrying the fetus has the right to make medical decisions about her own body and in the interests of her own health without intervention from the government.  The government does not have the right to make a woman sick, as it did Ms. Deaver, to make a woman die, to end her chances of ever getting pregnant again, or to make a woman carry her relative’s or her rapist’s or anyone’s baby against her will. They just don’t.

My goodness, I’m sounding practically Tea Partyish in my disdain for the government’s interference in my private life. If only they believed my rights are as sacrosanct as theirs.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sharon Gardner permalink
    June 28, 2011 4:00 pm

    RIght on!

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