HR 1797 (known as the Pain-Capable Infant Protection Act) is a bill being debated in the United States that would essentially ban all abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Michael Burgess, Republican member of the House of Representatives and former OBGYN, made a fascinating argument in favor of an even earlier ban on abortion.
“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” he said. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
Essentially, because fetuses appear to masturbate as early as 15 or 16 weeks, Burgess believes that they must be capable of feeling pain as well. The concern-trolling over a fetus’ ability to feel pain is based on a collection of disputed studies. Per the New York Times:
Based on current knowledge, medical organizations generally reject the notion that a fetus can feel pain before 24 weeks. “The suggestion that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain is inconsistent with the biological evidence,” said Dr. David A. Grimes, a prominent researcher and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “To suggest that pain can be perceived without a cerebral cortex is also inconsistent with the definition of pain.”
In one recent review, in March 2010, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Britain said of the brain development of fetuses: “Connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.”
Observations of physical recoiling and hormonal responses of younger fetuses to needle touches are reflexive and do not indicate “pain awareness,” the report said.
On a Web site summarizing their case, abortion opponents counter with recent studies by a handful of scientists claiming that a functioning cortex is not necessary for the experience of pain. They charge that the American and British obstetrical colleges are biased, dominated by abortion supporters.
The bill has seen support among conservatives, among the Burgess.
“Well, I think all the members are cognizant of the fact that this is not a Congress that cares much about science,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York.
HR 1797 poses a direct challenge to the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which allows abortions until a fetus is viable (after 24 weeks, as determined by a doctor in each individual case), and provides exceptions for women who’s life or health are threatened by a pregnancy.
There is no such protection for the health of a pregnant woman in this bill, and only a very narrowly defined exception when a pregnancy threatens the life of a woman. While the 20-week ban allows an exception for women who are the victims of rape or incest, this is only possible if the women reported the rape or incest to authorities.