Yesterday, Washington state’s Republican delegation joined the House Republicans and voted in favor of a bill that would severely restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortions. Bill H.R. 1797 goes under the Orwellian title “Pain-capable unborn child protection act.”
The bill goes to some lengths to argue that the fetus (referred to in wingnut-speak as “unborn child”) feels pain by “no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.” The claim is scientifically dubious. Recent reviews conducted by bona fide scientists (rather than, you know, wingnuts) cast doubt on this assertion.
For example, in a recent review article, Bellieni and Buonocore (2012, Journal of Maternal, Fetal, and Neonatal Medicine 25:1203–1208) weigh the anatomical, endocrinological, behavioral, and electrophysiological evidence. They cautiously conclude:
Our data show that there is consistent evidence of the possibility for the fetus to experience pain in the third trimester, and this evidence is weaker before this date and null in the first half of pregnancy.
Less ambiguity was found in a 2010 “Working Party” report by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists titled “Fetal Awareness”. Their conclusions are rather concrete. From the summary…
In reviewing the neuroanatomical and physiological evidence in the fetus, it was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation. After 24 weeks there is continuing development and elaboration of intracortical networks such that noxious stimuli in newborn preterm infants produce cortical responses. Such connections to the cortex are necessary for pain experience but not sufficient, as experience of external stimuli requires consciousness. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that the fetus never experiences a state of true wakefulness in utero and is kept, by the presence of its chemical environment, in a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation. This state can suppress higher cortical activation in the presence of intrusive external stimuli. This observation highlights the important differences between fetal and neonatal life and the difficulties of extrapolating from observations made in newborn preterm infants to the fetus.
These recent reviews summarize the broad scientific literature relying on hundreds of previous scientific studies and empirical observations that weigh in on all sides of the argument. The House Republicans relied on cherry picking a handful of papers that favor their position. They come to a “scientific conclusion” for the bill using amateur methods unworthy of an undergraduate term paper, let alone a House bill!
The bill prohibits abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, and provides limited exceptions:
- To “save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury…not including psychological or emotional conditions.”
- If “the pregnancy is the result of rape,” but only “if the rape has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency“
- If “the pregnancy is the result of incest against a minor” but only “if the incest against a minor has been reported at any time prior to the abortion“
The scientific record is clear on another aspect of abortion: “Abortion-related deaths are more frequent in countries with more restrictive abortion laws”. The more restrictive the laws, the higher the rates of abortion-related maternal mortality.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 20 million unsafe abortions annually. The practice result in about 68,000 unnecessary deaths to women, and an additional 5 million women who suffer long-term health complications from the unsafe practices. The public health consequences of anti-abortion laws are profound.
Republicans, by voting for Bill H.R. 1797, have ignored (in fact, abused) science, and have voted, essentially, to kill women.
And I am sad to see that Washington state’s G.O.P. delegation, Dave Reichert, “Doc” Hastings, Jamie Herrera Beutler, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, all voted in favor of killing women.
Death is a pretty harsh punishment for unintentionally getting pregnant…particularly for women who were too embarrassed to report a rape, or girls too ashamed to report incest.
You know what…It’s time to get rid of these puritanical women-killing fucking troglodytes!