The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a statement about fetal pain given the misleading testimony during the debate over HR 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act. This legislation was recently passed by the House of Representatives and if it becomes law will ban all abortions after 20 weeks. There is a life of the mother clause and rape/incest exemption, but only if the rape/incest is reported to the police before the procedure.

We’ll have to discuss the atrocity of requiring a police report to “legitimize” rape/incest on another day. Today I want to focus on the erroneous and thoroughly unscientific belief that a 20 week fetus feels pain.

This is the statement from ACOG on the scientific facts concerning fetal pain:

A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.
Although ultrasound monitoring can show intrauterine fetal movement, no studies since 2005 
demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.

Sound health policy is best based on scientific fact and evidence-based medicine. The best health care
is provided free of governmental interference in the patient-physician relationship. Personal decision-making by women and their doctors should not be replaced by political ideology.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), representing more than 58,000
ob-gyns and partners in women’s health, supports robust, factual debate on issues of importance to the
American people. We urge you to call on us to provide expert factual explanation of issues related to
women’s health.

It is important to note that many other medical societies also oppose HR 1797, including:

American College of Nurse-Midwives
American Medical Women’s Association
American Nurses Association
American Public Health Association
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
American Society for Reproductive Medicine
National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health
National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association
Physicians for Reproductive Health

The other error with HR 1797 is that is uses fertilization to determine gestational age, which (as I have posted before) is not the scientific method. ACOG says it well with:

Obstetrician-gynecologists use last menstrual period (LMP) to date pregnancies. This bill
seeks to take the determination of gestational age away from medical doctors who are trained
to make this determination.

Science tells us that the thalamocortical fibers (the wiring that transmits pain signal to and from the brain) don’t start penetrating the cortical plate until 22 weeks at the very earliest (most embryologists quote 24 weeks), never mind that the cortical changes needed to process nocioception (a sensation) as pain are not present at 22 weeks. Quite simply a stimulus cannot be painful until it is processed by the brain as pain.

How these blatantly unscientific facts are allowed to permeate our government is frightening. They are not just happening at a federal level as many states are also using this tactic. If enough of these laws get passed people who otherwise don’t think too much about abortion or embryology might start believing it to be true. And if fetal pain acts become laws in multiple states, how could they not?

What if one day a senator wanted to pass a law saying the world is flat? Never mind that we have scientists flat-earth-society1and astronauts who can tell us otherwise with scientific facts (a.k.a. proof). What if his party held the majority and voted in his favor. And since the world will be designated as flat, all sailing past the visible horizon will be banned because the ship could fall off into the great beyond. Would we rise up and say, “You’ve got to be kidding me?!”

These fetal pain acts and laws are no different from saying the world is flat.

Some people very much want fetal pain to be true, but that doesn’t make it so. Science says otherwise. To me this is much more than a fight about reproductive rights, it’s a fight about legislators pushing through personal agendas that are destructive to the well-being of society.

When we abandon facts, we have nothing.


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  1. Fifty years ago all women were going to have ‘babies’ human babies, not we’re going to have a piece of celery. I don’t understand wanting to kill unborn babies. Their using it as birth control when there are quite a few contraceptives that can be used. Answer me this, when you want to limit your family what will you do?

    1. Abortion is a bit older than 50 years ago. Julius Caesar was born by c-section (hence, caesarian), and I would be very surprised if the surgeon who did the operation on his mom couldn’t have done earlier as slightly different operation to have little Julius… unborn.
      There is another “late contraceptive” of the good old times we rarely talk about. Infanticide. That wasn’t uncommon either…

      I don’t like the idea of killing unborn babies, either. However, after much huffing and puffing, I came to the following, almost comfortable opinion:
      I prefer to live in a country in which abortion is available, under competent medical supervision and, why not, after preliminary counseling by a health worker, but is rarely called for because other methods of contraception are available and there is a real education about sex,
      rather than in a country in which abortion is illegal or so severely limited it amounts to the same thing, but, because there are few or no alternative, it is still happening in large numbers in dark alleyways and everybody is busy pretending it isn’t.

      There may be a few different contraceptives available in our western societies, but are they truly available to women, including teenagers? Not everybody has the chance to do some good planning ahead of time.
      For that matter, what proportion of men out there are doing the responsible thing and put a cap on their little head? The C part of ABC campaigns always seem half-forgotten to me.

    2. Birth control fails sometimes. Rape happens. Circumstances change- husband killed at 6 weeks gestation means the woman may no longer be in a place to have the baby. Sometimes having the baby will kill or severely injure the mother. Sometimes the fetus can’t live due to genetic defects, so abortion is the most humane choice.

      Me? I use hormonal contraception to limit (so far to 0!) the number of children I have. I feel much better knowing that should I be one of the unlucky 0.2% of women who gets pregnant anyways, I have the option of an abortion even though I wouldn’t abort at this time.

    3. As usual, when confronted with a scientific fact, as opposed to pseudoscience, the anti-choice person counters with gibberish. We are aware of your opinion, I doubt that anything will change it- is it too much to ask to give us the same consideration?
      Thank you, Dr.Gunter, for giving us scientific facts. Plus, I’m so glad to finally see some physicians taking a public stand against the government-required lies they want you to tell your patients.

    4. Abortion is a form of birth control. It seems that you have a problem with the definition of words, as well as with facts and literacy.

      Abortion is as old as pregnancy itself. If you think that making abortion illegal stops it from happening, then you’re hopelessly ignorant. Abortion is more common in countries where abortion is illegal, than it is in countries with legalised abortion.

      If women want to use abortion to control the size of their families then that is their choice to make, not yours. An embryo is no more a “baby” than an egg is a chicken. Put your Bible down, turn off Faux News, and read a real book some time. Youn brain will thank you.

  2. Please, all you circumcised guys, raise your hand if you remember the pain of the procedure…and this was done well after 20 wks!

  3. This is well and good, but I can remember when we were told that even newborns felt no pain.
    And this wasn’t in the dark ages, either. Prior to 1986 circumcisions and even surgeries were performed without anesthesia ( ).
    I have a science degree and I understand the concepts of evidence-based and science-based medicine well,
    but I am not persuaded that it has been proven that babies do not feel pain. Saying that “no studies since 2005
    demonstrate fetal recognition of pain” is not the same as saying that studies “demonstrate no fetal recognition of pain.” Your scientific rationale for why a fetus cannot feel pain, while plausible, is not conclusive until such studies are done.

    1. Since you have a science degree you must understand that circumcision on a term infant is not relevant to the science of fetal nocioception and pain at 22 weeks.

      Perhaps you misread the ACOG quote? The JAMA study covers the body of scientific literature before 2005 and since 2005 no studies have been published supporting fetal pain at 22 weeks.

      1. My point is that many people are sceptical regarding expert opinion. “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Although ultrasound monitoring can show intrauterine fetal movement, no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.” Saying that perception of pain is unlikely is not the same as saying that it doesn’t occur; and I do not fully trust “expert” medical opinion, which has so often been shown to be wrong in the past. This is why I brought up the fact the experts believed newborns do not feel pain as recently as the 1980s, when any mother could have told them otherwise.

        I acknowledge that I have have not read the studies that were reviewed, and I would need to do so before commenting further. Can you provide a link?

        Thank you.

  4. How bout fetal masturbation, as espoused by Rep. Michael Burgess, (Loon, TX), and my Representative, an alleged Board Certified, OBGyn physician.

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