Texas Right to Life Pushes More Bunk Science on "Preborn Pain," Calls Observer "Anti-Life"

Categories: Politics, Science

Elizabeth Graham.jpg
Elizabeth Graham, Director of Texas Right to Life
Over the past couple months, we've brought you periodic updates on Texas Right to Life's quest to help pass a bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks. They've finally found a sponsor to carry that bill: State Representative Jodie Laubenberg filed the "Preborn Pain Act" this time last week. Texas Right to Life and the bill's other supporters -- including Governor Rick Perry -- make the assertion that fetuses are able to feel pain at 20 weeks.

The thing about that claim is that it's not true (we'll get into the voluminous evidence for that again in a moment). The second thing about that claim is that "fetal pain" legislation --- much like "personhood" legislation that tries to claim that life begins at fertilization -- is part of an ongoing attempt to ban abortion by inches. Which, as Perry keeps saying publicly, is exactly the point: to make abortion "a thing of the past."

A recent -- article? Press release? Not sure what to call this thing -- says the the Observer (that's us) is part of the "anti-Life" media. Apparently we're "predictably attacking" them while ignoring the scientific evidence.

Let's get right into that scientific evidence, shall we?

"Numerous scientific studies and physicians recognize that preborn children feel torturous pain from abortion by 20 weeks gestation, if not earlier," writes Texas Right to Life. (Nobody has signed the article.) "Contrary to the Observer's ludicrous claim that the reality of fetal pain is based on a study from 1987 that has been 'debunked,' ample recent evidence from the scientific community supports the bill."

Some background: "Preborn pain" bills banning abortion after either 20 or 22 weeks have been passed in eight states so far: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Many of these bills, like Texas', borrow liberally from language originally written by influential pro-life lobby group Americans United for Life. The one study AUL likes to cite to support their fetal pain claims is indeed from 1987. Here they are, citing it in the model legislation, which they termed the "Women's Health Defense Act." It claims that abortions are too dangerous for women after 20 weeks (not true), and even if they weren't, the fetus would be able to feel pain, and so abortions after that point should summarily be banned.

OK, Texas Right to Life. Let's take the 1987 study off the table for a moment and have a look at some of the other evidence you cite to support fetal pain, shall we? Let's not look at the Journal of the American Medical Association's comprehensive 2005 study, which found that "the capacity for functional pain perception in preterm neonates probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks." Let's also not look at this joint study by researchers from Harvard Law and Harvard Medical School, which calls fetal pain at 20 weeks a "speculative" claim. It adds that even if fetal pain at 20 weeks proved true -- a big if -- existing Supreme Court precedent makes it clear that this wouldn't be enough to make a 20-week ban constitutional. Also, please don't look at this one, from a 2011 volume of Current Biology, which found that the neural circuits "necessary for discrimination between touch and nociception emerge from 35-37 weeks gestation in the human brain." (Nociception is the neural process of deciphering "noxious stimuli," meaning pain.)

Instead of looking at all that actual and current science, let's follow the link that Texas Right to Life provides, which claims to show "dozens" of peer-reviewed studies proving that fetal pain at 20 weeks is an inarguable fact. The link leads us to a skeletal webpage called Doctors on Fetal Pain . Instead of linking to full studies, the page cherry-picks information to support its claims. Again, some of the studies they cite here are alarmingly old: from 1987 (the same study the AUL uses, once again), 1980, and even 1964. And all of the evidence they cite only shows that pain receptors begin to develop in the fetus before 20 weeks. But the neural pathways fetuses actually need to feel pain? Those aren't present until at least 24 weeks at the very, very earliest.

Need yet more evidence? This excellent Mother Jones piece on the myth of fetal pain links to, among other studies, one done in 2010 by the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They recommend against using anesthesia on fetuses in operations before 24 weeks, because the fetus " cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation." In that same piece, Mother Jones speculates that the whole point of enacting fetal pain laws in the first place is to push an inevitable lawsuit towards the Supreme Court, with the idea that the balance has shifted on the court towards stricter anti-abortion laws.

It's not surprising that Texas Right to Life routinely uses old science and willfully misunderstood data. They seem determined to get safe, legal abortion banned by any means necessary, along with birth control, emergency contraception and accurate sex ed, no matter how many hysterical half-truths and outright lies about pain and danger they have to push. It's worth noting that these are the same people who recently claimed that abortion providers are prowling the halls of your kid's school, trying to goad them into having sex so they can make money off the abortion. And TRL director Elizabeth Graham recently referred to lawmakers who are trying to restore family planning funds as "a coven."

When you see witches in the hallways of the Legislature and abortionists hiding under your kid's desk, understanding science is probably the least of your problems.

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50 comments
alteredjustice
alteredjustice

Alright, Elizabeth Graham has convinced me. Post-birth abortion should be legal.

cheeseburger
cheeseburger

So I pulled out the 20 week sonogram video of  my daughter.  She was moving around, kicking, stretching, and at one point was even sucking her thumb.  A child that has a nervous system capable of coordinating thumb sucking is capable of feeling pain.  You simply cannot deny that, and to clain there's any scientific evidence to prove otherwise is ridiculous., because there isn't any.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I wonder what the "pro-lifers" think about the "torturous pain" of very sick people who want an assisted suicide. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Just once, I'd like these vehement anti-abortionists to pause, and replace "a woman's right to control her own body" with "an American's right to keep and bear arms".  Would they even grasp the fact that they're advocating the restriction of individual freedom in the first instance, and decrying the restriction of individual freedom in the second.  I use this analogy because I have a strong suspicion, to my great chagrin, that there is a hefty overlap between the two groups.  For myself, I am a strong second amendment supporter and personally very against abortion. However, I'm strongly in favor of a woman having the right to make that choice for herself.

TheAnus
TheAnus

Google "2nd Trimester fetus" and look at the images. 


Seriously, open a new window and do that right now.

TheAnus
TheAnus

1.  I ton't know if I'd tout Mother Jones on anything ever.


2.  I believe in a woman's right to choose, but I also believe that there is some truth to that which you so summarily dismiss.

epicmale
epicmale

So a human at 20 weeks has less sensory ability than a common flatworm?  Argue it to death, you can't deny reality.  That is a baby, at its most vulnerable....

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

I'm convinced the rich want to get rid of abortions so they can ensure having a large group of people in the future to a. put in prison and make a profit off of them or b. clean their houses, deliver their food, etc.

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

have that kid you don't want and can't afford..but fuck you if you need welfare feeding and clothing the poor bastard

NewsDog
NewsDog

Wait... wait. Corporations are people too right? Do Corporations feel pain? Does this mean you won't be able to terminate a Corporation after 20 weeks? What happens in the case of corporate mergers? Oh man this just got interesting. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

why did Jesus forget to say anything worth recording on this issue?  Why does the Old Testament hold "causing a woman's pregnancy to terminate" is not punished like murder, or even manslaughter?

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Yet these are the same people that love state sponsored execution.

They love life that doesn't exist, but don't give a fuck about real life.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

It has never been about "when life begins" but only "wanted vs unwanted".  If that were so, only one life would be lost when someone murders a pregnant woman.  However, it is implied that since the woman did not abort, she wanted the child so the murderer is charged on two counts.

So it's off message if pain is present in the unborn or the aborted.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

If I wave my dick around and someone gets preggers, do I have the choice to off the expensive little brat before it sucks air?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

fucking people are nuts man.  to each his own, but these people should worry about their own vaginas before worrying about others.  I rate this a 5 vaginas story, Give em hell Anna

alteredjustice
alteredjustice

@cheeseburger Thumb sucking is a reflex. The baby isn't thinking "I want/need to suck my thumb." It's doing the sucking on an reflexive level. It's a completely different thing from pain.

Guest
Guest

@cheeseburger ...except that there is. And it's been referenced in the article. Maybe try reading it?

observist
observist

@RTGolden1  Personally, I find the right to control one's own body to be far more "natural" or "god-given" than the right to own a specific type of object.  It's like the difference between the right to travel and the right to own a car.

observist
observist

@TheAnus A 2nd-trimester fetus may have all visible outward appearances of being a tiny, fully functioning person, but have completely undeveloped lungs, nervous system, etc., and not be viable even with millions of dollars of leading-edge medical technology.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@TheAnus I'm sorry, I didn't realize that Mother Jones actually did a study...

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@garlandsucks they have few qualms about abortions for their girls; particularly when they get inseminated by the lower upper class.

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

@NewsDog I can steal 60 worth of dvds and possibly spend a year in jail..a corporate type can steal 30 million and spend 3 times that amount..how fucked is that

bifftannen
bifftannen

@scottindallas Because God terminates more pregnancies than anybody in the history of the universe. Where is the law forbidding miscarriages?

observist
observist

@holmantx  I agree with that, and see it as the crux of the pro-choice argument.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@alteredjustice @cheeseburger how do you know?  A reflex requires nerve development.  I don't care if these are fully formed people, so long as they take their residence inside a woman, she's gonna determine whether that thing is evicted or not.  Don't consul yourself with spurious notions, abortion is (a type of) murder.  But, fuck, we're all an infection on this planet and the deaths of a few of us are of no consequence.  How you gonna get a cop between a woman and her uterus?  That's gov't overreach. 

alteredjustice
alteredjustice

@scottindallas How do I know? Well, um, let's see. I've taken multiple anatomy classes, a child development class, multiple psych classes... and it's not hidden knowledge, you can easily look up all the reflexes that babies (or adults) have, another example in children is the Babinski reflex. 


The reason I'm pointing out that it's a reflex is because it's not a higher level of consciousness or anything, which is how cheeseburger was presenting it in his little anecdote. Reflex movements aren't controlled by the brain, they're controlled by the spine. Yes, it requires some innervation. So what? That has nothing to do with pain and nothing to do with higher level consciousness. In fact, this reflex was evolved because babies can't think on a high enough level to think "I want milk."

Saying it's a type of murder is your opinion, and people's opinion on what constitutes murder varies greatly. Some people think plan B cause abortions which is also bad science. That's the problem with the argument that babies feel pain at that stage, it's contradictory to science and reality but they keep pushing it hoping that it will add a level of guilt to people until they finally make abortions illegal. So in a way they are trying to prove that it's murder by making you feel guilt.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@cheeseburger

"highly contested" by whom? Elizabeth Graham and Texas Right to Life?

sorry to burst your bubble, but their objections are nothing more than one putting their fingers in their ears and screaming. It doesn't prove the research false, it just ignores the facts as if those facts don't exist..

the medical schools at Harvard and UCSF are in the top 10 in this country. the studies show their work and how they arrived at their results.

have to disappoint you, the sonogram of your daughter doesn't refute these well researched works done by accredited institutions. doesn't come close.

you can put your fingers back in your ears and scream all you want....

observist
observist

@Montemalone @holmantx  It's impossible to deny that a baby is alive, say, 7 days before it is born.  (assuming full term, no miscarriage, etc).   I also think it's unconscionable to force a recently-impregnated woman to carry and give birth to a child she doesn't want.  I believe there is now an overlap between the fetal age range at which abortion is legal and medical technology can save a prematurely born baby, and the only difference is "wantedness", which I think is an acceptable differentiator between treating the murder of a pregnant woman as two murders, and not accusing abortion doctors of any crime at all.  "Wantedness" is also the defining differentiator between intercourse and rape, and while not perfect, it's a workable legal definition.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

@observist @ruddski 

I was referring to men lacking biological awareness, but now that you mention it, a lot of women skipped class that day too.

observist
observist

@ruddski @observist  It's easy to be sanctimonious about women's imperfect gatekeeping on sexual behavior when you can't get pregnant yourself.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

@observist @ruddski

" I think you're confusing uteruses with vaginas."

The confusion about the connection is what leads to abortion.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@ruddski @observist That works out to about $1.3mil. Should cover the cost of the kid.

(For those of you who have trouble with numbers: 9 X 30 X 24 X $200)

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