by Edd Doerr
In their 40-year jihad against women's rights of conscience and religious freedom regarding abortion the anti-choice movement has resorted to pushing through laws to ban the procedure after 20 weeks on the ground that fetuses can feel pain then. Since 2010 a dozen states have passed laws to enshrine that notion into law, and congressional Republicans approved such a bill in June.
Today's (Sept 17) New York Times has an excellent report by Pam Belluck ("Complex Science at Issues in Politics of Fetal Pain:") detailing what scientists have to say on the subject. Their consensus is that fetuses cannot register pain until some time after 24 weeks, simply because the cerebral cortex is not sufficidently developed until that late in gestation. About 90% of abortions are performed before 24 weeks (90% by 13 weeks) and procedures after 24 weeks are performed only for serious medical indications affecting the woman and/or the fetus. I urge you to read the Times important piece.
On May 30, 1987, Americans for Religious Liberty sponsored a one-day conference in Washington on the subject of fetal "personhood". The conference featured addresses by Catholic and Protestant theologians, attorneys, and scientists. All participants agreed that assigning "personhood" to fetuses before some time after 28 to 32 weeks of gestation made no sense. The papers presented at the conference were published by ARL in the book Abortion Rights and Fetal "Personhood", edited by psychologist James Prescott and myself (Centerline Press, 1989, 1990). The book was plugged by Isaac Asimov, abortion rights pioneer Lawrence Lader, NARAL executive Kate Michelman, Catholics for Choice president Frances Kissling, sociologist Alfred McClung Lee, and The Humanist (May/June 1989).
The conference's science findings were incorporated in the ARL-sponsored amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in the 1988 case Webster v Reproductive Health Services. The brief was signed by 12 Nobel laureate scientists (including DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick) and 155 other distinguished scientists (all listed on the brief). The Prescott/Doerr book is out of print, but the amicus brief to the SCOTUS is included in John M. Swomley's 1999 book Compulsory Pregnancy: The War Against American Women (Humanist Press), still available for $10 from ARL, Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916.
(Edd Doerr has headed ARL since 1982)