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Using the junk science of supposed fetal pain before 24 weeks many lawmakers have enacted laws designed to stop second trimester abortion. There are now 17 states with 20-22 week bans (many of the laws use incorrect terminology and count gestational age from fertilization, which is of course not how we do it in medicine).  These states have either outlawed later term abortions outright or taken a more circuitous route by requiring “anesthesia,” as no physician really knows what that means it leaves women needing those procedures in a terrible limbo. While the procedure is not technically illegal no one knows how to comply with the law.

If fetal pain really exists in the way that anti-choice lawmakers think then why stop at abortion? Why not also protect wanted pregnancies from the painful horrors of birth? A fetus delivering vaginally has its head squeezed in a vice (the pelvic bones and pelvic floor muscles), sometimes for 48 hours. The pressure is so great that the skull bones shift and there is often serious swelling of the scalp and face. Talk about a headache! The ramifications of this obvious pain are totally unstudied. Obviously, we should apply the conscious adult’s perception of untreated pain not just to a 22 week fetus with an unconnected thalamocortical plate but to a newborn as well.




If you follow the bad logic and worse science of these “pain-capable” bills the conclusion is to spare every baby the pain of delivery. Shouldn’t we just legislate that every woman have a c-section to spare all wanted pregnancies the pain of delivery? Who cares that no one has ever proven that a vaginal delivery is painful!

Obviously, these laws are nothing short of the perversion of science, but if they stay on the books they shift the goal posts in a very dangerous direction. Saying that something can exist legally that clearly doesn’t exist medically means the science doesn’t matter at all. That medical care can be determined by those who know the least about the subject. And even more chilling is the fact that fetal pain legislation could be used to pervert medical care in other ways. If you establish the false pretense of fetal pain, what is to stop lawmakers from using it to control women, either by forcing them to have c-sections against their will or forcing them to take medications in pregnancy. Hey, it’s all to protect the fetus from pain.

While these laws are of course nothing to do with fetal pain and everything about tap dancing around Roe v. Wade to to make abortion illegal, the clear erosion of a pregnant person’s autonomy should not be dismissed in all the outrage. If these laws stand a pregnant person is now simply a vessel whose rights are now less than a fetus and the fact that State governments are perverting science to pass this legislation makes it all the more chilling.






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  1. I think the logic and science in the comparison between abortion and childbirth is not sound here either though… In childbirth we are talking about pain in accordance with the natural process of a human being born into the world. In abortion we are talking about pain in accordance with an invasive procedure to termination a human life (or if you don’t allow the designation ‘human life’ you must at least accept it as a potential human life and not merely parasitic tissue or something). Both processes cause pain to the unborn and the woman carrying the child, but the intent is an important factor. There are a lot of medical procedures which are painful but actually aim at healing or strength (medical procedures / simple exercise), and you can’t justifiably compare that sort of pain to a gunshot or stab wound aimed at killing someone. And if you’ll allow me to add as an aside, you also have the issue of the total absence of science and logical argument in dealing with question of the humanity of the unborn in order to safe-guard the total autonomy of the pregnant woman. It’s neither scientific nor logical for the ‘personhood’ of the unborn to depend totally on the wim or circumstance of the pregnant woman, or for that matter socially constructed views regarding the inherent dignity and humanity of people with disabilities and / or deformities.

    1. You are aware, aren’t you, that foetuses are not shot or stabbed during TOP? The vast majority of procedures are performed before 9 weeks, so there’s nothing in the uterine cavity capable of feeling pain. Later procedures almost always take place before the foetus is capable of feeling pain.

      So-called”foetal pain” laws are not based in science, but come from a place of devaluing the humanity and autonomy of the person carrying the pregnancy.

      As an aside – as a severely disabled person (I require 24hr care), I can tell you that forcing women to birth severely disabled babies is not a way to achieve more respect for PWD. But you know that as well as I do, don’t you?

      Making elective or therapeutic abortions illegal won’t stop them from happening.

  2. Thank you, once again, Dr. Gunter, for your clear explanation and rightful denunciation of what passes for medical knowledge in our local, state, and federal legislators when it comes to pregnant women. And as you say, even worse than all that is “the clear erosion of a pregnant person’s autonomy.” #FreePurvi

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