Headlines today suggest that congress is attempting to ban abortion at 20 weeks.
Except they’re not. Congress might think they are enacting a 20 weeks ban. Many lay people might think they are. Many news sites might be calling it a 20 week ban. Life News might think it’s a 20 week ban. But it isn’t.
Congress is trying to ban abortion at 22 weeks.
Here is the exact wording of the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” related to gestational age:
Prohibits the abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater…
We, meaning obstetricians, calculate gestational age from the 1st day of the last menstrual period. Embryologists, the people who study embryonic and fetal development use post fertilization age, because obviously one can’t study an embryo that has yet to be produced. For an embryologist day 1 has to be when the sperm penetrates the egg because obviously there is nothing before that.
But for doctors, the people who will have to follow this stupid legislation if it ever happens, day 1 of pregnancy is the last menstrual period. This is because historically before ovulation test kits and ultrasound no one could know for sure when they ovulated. Even if you know when you ovulate the day of fertilization will always be unknown. One the other hand the first day of your last period is an obvious event. Even when we calculate gestational age with ultrasound the convention of using the last menstrual period is built into the equation.
As we use the last menstrual period 20 weeks from fertilization is 22 weeks gestational age.
So fertilization age is for embryologists who do not look after real live patients and gestational age is for those of us who do.
A 22 week ban is of course very different from a 20 week ban. It’s still wrong, but for women planning terminations for fetal anomalies these 2 weeks would make a lot of difference. I’m not going to go into the pseudoscience of the fetal pain (at 20 weeks or 22 weeks) part of the bill, but you can read more about that here.
It’s hard to know why Congress is using such medically nonsensical terminology. Is is because they don’t know what they are doing? I can’t believe they really mean a 22 week ban as Life News, that bastion of medical falsehood and the medical textbook of the GOP, is calling it a 20 week ban. Is it as simple as being a medical dullard?
I think some of the people involved have such little understanding of medicine that they don’t understand the difference between fertilization and gestational age. Just think if they can’t even get the simple science of gestational age correct what do you think they are doing to the actual science behind fetal pain?
However, I truly believe there is something more sinister a foot. Getting “post fertilization age” into law at a Federal level would of course be the start of the slippery slope that “life” begins at conception. Once laws are on the books everything is open to interpretation. The abuse of fetal harm laws, originally meant to be used in crimes against pregnant women to criminalize premature delivery have taught us that.
Just as fetal harm laws were always a back door to criminalize abortion, so I believe that including fertilization age in federal law is a slight if hand designed to legislate that life begins at conception.
I’m pretty sure most of the GOP who vote for these bills have no idea what they are voting for, but I bet the puppet masters do.