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.