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Ear to the Ground

Fetuses Cannot Feel Pain

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Posted on Aug 12, 2013
abiodork (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There’s been a recent uptick in the use of phrases such as “fetal pain” or “pain-capable unborn child” in anti-abortion rhetoric. Such discomfort, make no mistake, is scientifically impossible. An embryo doesn’t develop connections between its brain and its body’s pain receptors until about 24 weeks after it’s conceived. This means that the laws states have passed banning abortion after 20 weeks because unborn children will supposedly suffer are based on blatant lies.

Dr. Anne Davis, consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon:

Patients are now asking me about fetal pain. This was not happening 15 years ago,” Davis says. “When you’re sitting in your office with a woman who is 22 weeks into a pregnancy with a severe fetal anomaly — she’s depressed, she’s stressed and now she’s worried, ‘Is my baby going to feel pain?’ It’s just another thing these women have to struggle with. And why? These are created concerns. They are not based in science, they are based in politics.”

And it’s the life experiences and medical needs of these women, unfortunately, that are all too often left out of the debate. Most people don’t know — and don’t want to know — why women have abortions at or after 20 weeks, which account for approximately 1.5 percent of all abortions.

But facts haven’t stopped politicians, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, from supporting legislation that could be harmful to patients’ health. Davis explains that some abortions are necessary at 20 weeks due to complications that cannot be foreseen early on. In these cases, doctors in states where laws allow termination only after severe medical complications must wait until their patients’ condition worsens before they can perform a life-saving procedure.

Anti-choice advocates and legislators are doing a lot of harm to these women whose ability to feel pain is very real. And yet, like most discourse regarding abortion, somehow the unborn receive more attention and consideration than the living. As Davis exclaims, “The whole debate—the way the whole thing is framed—is very shaming to patients. Let’s bring respect back into it. Treat people with respect. Have compassion for patients. Do what’s right for them.”

And what’s right should be up to the woman and her doctor, not politicians.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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