Utah Anti-Choice Law Is Based On Disputed Right-Wing Media Claims Of Fetal Pain
Research ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN
Utah's governor just signed into law an abortion anesthesia measure that, according to The Associated Press, is "based on that disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain," a concept that has been promoted by right-wing media. But research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that "fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester."
Utah Passes Anti-Abortion Law "Based On The Disputed Premise That A Fetus Can Feel Pain" At 20 Weeks
AP: Utah Law Requires "Doctors To Give Anesthesia To Women Having An Abortion At 20 Weeks Of Pregnancy Or Later." On March 29, The Associated Press reported that Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) signed a bill "that makes Utah the first state to require doctors to give anesthesia to women having an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later," which the article noted "could increase the health risks to women." AP pointed out that the bill is based on the "disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point":
The governor signed a bill Monday that makes Utah the first state to require doctors to give anesthesia to women having an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later.
The bill signed by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point.
Many doctors in Utah and across the country are concerned that the requirement could increase the health risks to women by giving them unnecessary heavy sedation in order to protect a fetus from pain that it may or may not feel. [The Associated Press, 3/29/16]
Right-Wing Media Assert That It's "Indisputable" Fetuses "Can Feel Pain By 20 Weeks"
Townhall: It Is "Indisputable" That A Fetus "Can Feel Pain By 20 Weeks Post-Fertilization." On January 21, 2015, Townhall.com columnist Arina Grossu claimed that it is a "matter of indisputable biology" that a fetus "can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization":
The unborn child can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization at the latest: This is matter of indisputable biology. Embryology text books teach that by 18 weeks post-fertilization, when the connection between the spinal cord and the thalamus (the pain-processing center) is complete, painful stimuli cause stress hormone levels to go up such that the child can perceive severe pain. [Townhall.com, 1/21/15]
Fox Guest: "We Know That Babies ... Can Feel Pain" At 20 Weeks. On the August 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox guest Penny Young Nance said, "We know that babies" at 20 weeks in the womb "can feel pain":
PENNY YOUNG NANCE: We know that babies at that point can feel pain. At 20 weeks, which is what the bill we've been asking Congress to vote on. We know that a baby, very early, has a heartbeat, at 18 days.
ERIC BOLLING (GUEST HOST): Right.
NANCE: We know that they can hear and respond to their mother's voices. This is Science. Wake up. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 8/12/15, via Nexis]
Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle: "The Baby Can Feel Pain" After Five Months In The Womb. On the May 14, 2015, edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle agreed with then-Speaker of the House John Boehner's (R-OH) claim that "by five months in the womb, unborn babies are capable of feeling pain." Guilfoyle urged opponents to "understand that the baby can feel pain and sensation and all that" after five months in the womb:
ERIC BOLLING (CO-HOST): All right. Let's do this. Take a listen to this. It stays in the same world. We turn the debate a little bit. Yesterday the House approved a bill banning most abortions after five months. It didn't take long for Hillary Clinton to weigh in, tweeting this. "When it comes to women's health there are two kinds of experts: women and their doctors. True 40-plus years ago, true today. - H." But Speaker John Boehner standing firm on his support for that legislation.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have no obligation, no higher obligation than to speak out for those who can't speak for themselves, to defend the defenseless. That's what this bill does. Because we know that, by five months in the womb, unborn babies are capable of feeling pain and it's morally wrong to inflict pain on an innocent -- human being.
BOLLING: All right, K.G. He's (ph) on your side.
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): Do you know what? We have a public policy interest and as a country a duty and obligation to preserve the sanctity of life. When you are talking about a five-month-old, that is -- it's unbelievable to me, I don't know who would ever even fathom trying to take a life at that position, because we know that the baby is viable.
GUILFOYLE: And why not embrace the science and the understanding, instead of operating in ignorance to understand that the baby can feel pain and sensation and all that. [Fox News, The Five, 5/14/15, via Nexis]
Researchers Say Fetal Pain Is "Unlikely Before The Third Trimester"
Journal Of The American Medical Association: "Fetal Perception Of Pain Is Unlikely Before The Third Trimester." An article in the August 24/31, 2005, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association explained that research "indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester":
Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion. Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures. [Journal of the American Medical Association, August 24/31, 2005]
Royal College Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists: "Research Shows That The Sensory Structures Are Not Developed Or Specialised Enough To Experience Pain In A Fetus Less Than 24 Weeks." A March 2010 report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that "research shows that the sensory structures are not developed or specialised enough to experience pain in a fetus less than 24 weeks":
Questions some women ask when having an abortion before 24 weeks
Will the fetus/baby feel pain?
No, the fetus does not experience pain. Pain relates to an unpleasant sensory or emotional response to tissue damage. To be aware of something or have pain, the body has to have developed special sensory structures and a joined-up nerve system between the brain and the rest of the body to communicate such a feeling. Although the framework for the nervous system in the growing fetus occurs early, it actually develops very slowly. Current research shows that the sensory structures are not developed or specialised enough to experience pain in a fetus less than 24 weeks. [Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, March 2010]
Columbia University Medical Center Professor: The Fetus Cannot Feel Pain Until "About 24 Weeks From Conception." In an August 7, 2013, Salon article, Dr. Anne Davis of Columbia University Medical Center and Physicians for Reproductive Health is quoted saying that fetuses are not able to feel pain until "about 24 weeks from conception." Davis later added that concerns about fetal pain are "created concerns. They are not based in science, they are based in politics":
"We know a lot about embryology [in the field]. The way that a fetus grows and develops hasn't changed and never will," Dr. Anne Davis, a second-trimester abortion provider, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon. "And what we know in terms of the brain and the nervous system in a fetus is that the part of the brain that perceives pain is not connected to the part of the body that receives pain signals until about 26 weeks from the last menstrual period, which is about 24 weeks from conception."
"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." [Salon, 8/7/13]