Skip to main content

On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that would criminalize all abortions that occur after the 20th week of pregnancy. And today, President Trump signaled that he'd sign the bill if it makes it through the Senate and lands on his desk. But of course this is a matter of science, which means the Republicans have it completely and stupefyingly wrong.

See, the reason they landed on 20 weeks as the cut-off for having an abortion is because they say fetuses are capable of feeling pain at that stage of gestation, therefore aborting a 20-week or older fetus is horribly cruel. Hence the title of the bill: the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act." 

Only, human fetuses don't feel pain until around the 27th week. How do I know this? Actual doctors and scientists indicate that the central nervous system isn't developed enough to experience pain until roughly the onset of the third trimester.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester [or 27 weeks]. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. elaborated on JAMA's findings:

One reason the JAMA review finds early pain perception unlikely is that the connections between the thalamus, a sort of relay center in the brain, and the cortex have not yet formed. This happens between 23 and 30 weeks gestational age, and the authors argue these connections are a precursor for pain perception. They also cite studies using electroencephalography that have shown the capacity for functional pain in preterm newborns “probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks.”

So, who should we believe: the leading medical experts in fetal biology or the current president, who needed four tries to correctly spell the word "hereby"? Though I hasten to note that what we "believe" is irrelevant because we're talking about science here and not faith. Nevertheless, it's probably a safe bet to go with the science on this rather than the misogyny-based whimsy of the old cranks who keep passing these "pain capable" bills -- now the law of the land in 20 states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin). 

The national law circulating through Congress at the moment is additionally pointless given that only around 1.5 percent of all abortions occur after the 20th week. These late-term abortions are generally sought for harrowing reasons, involving severe fetal birth defects or threats to the lives of the pregnant mothers, which case the decision-making that goes into authorizing such procedures is both unenviable and agonizing. Along those lines, there's no exception in the law for severe birth defects, of course, which would be too humane -- the exemptions are limited to cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. Regarding the rape exemption, it seems rather sketchy given the political and law-enforcement backlash against rape victims. 

All told, the point isn't the science or the stats. The point is to control women. Pain or no pain, as long as gestation takes place inside women's uteri, women ought to rightfully retain sovereignty over the contents of their internal organs. Likewise, many conservatives believe they enjoy considerable sovereignty over their homes and property. Why is this right not applicable to female reproductive organs? Why is it okay for sovereign citizens to use deadly force to defend their property, but it's not okay for women to retain control over their internal organs? While we're asking serious questions here, why haven't any Republicans lifted a finger to make pregnancy and parenting more affordable, thereby mitigating the economic need for abortions?

"Make Pregnancy Free"

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75 percent of all women seeking abortions are considered poor or low income. Likewise, in a recent study, the most often cited reason for abortions worldwide is the economic/financial factor. In other words, women most often seek abortions because they can't afford to be pregnant and to raise a child.

If the conservative goal is to protect fetuses by reducing the number of abortions, it seems like tackling the number one reason for abortions is a common sense way to start. Even better, here's a simple solution: make pregnancy free. Free medical services, including meds and devices. Free sonograms. Free amniocentesis tests. Free delivery. Free post-natal care, and CHIP to cover healthcare for newborns. (We'll circle back to CHIP in a second.)

"Medicare-for-all" would be a great path to achieving this goal, but if the Republicans feel the need to narrow the scope, providing the above-listed services for free would be a good start. I mean, if anti-choice conservatives were seriously interested in protecting fetuses, you'd think they'd pursue any legal and/or financial solution to that end. You know, for the babies. Yet around the same time the House passed the 20-week abortion ban, Congress allowed CHIP to expire, proving they don't give a flying rip about protecting babies. Two weeks ago, they tried and failed to repeal Obamacare, which, among many other services, provides healthcare for pregnant women. Again, why the disparity? Why aren't they interested in reducing abortions by, perhaps, upward of 75 percent?

The "why" really doesn't matter as much as the reality that Republicans haven't passed a damn thing making pregnancy or motherhood anywhere close to being more affordable. They've only made pregnancy and the need for abortions more inevitable by fighting against affordable and convenient access to birth control, while also pushing ludicrous and ineffectual abstinence-only laws. 

The good news is that the House's abortion ban probably won't make it through the Senate where the Democrats will likely filibuster, provided Chuck Schumer lassos the so-called "pro-life" Dems. Incidentally, it'd be nice if Democratic voters, including feminist activists, could put some oomph behind state and local elections to perhaps roll back the existence of "fetal pain" and Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws at the state level. 

The existence of TRAP and other anti-choice laws is both insulting and confounding given how conservatives are absolutely shoehorning themselves between patients and doctors, which they otherwise say they hate, while also, 1) sidestepping less intrusive affordability-based solutions, and 2) completely defying peer-reviewed science. In absence of facts and common sense, it's easy to see the real reason behind these laws: this is about codifying forced birth. This is about making sure that women continue to be walking, talking gestation pods for God's America. Nothing more.