Texas Congressman: Masturbating Fetuses Are Proof That Fetal Pain Is Real
It's always reassuring to know that no matter how stupid things get in the state legislature, things are just as dumb, if not more so, in Congress. Perhaps "reassuring" is the wrong word. In either case, in order to fully grasp the import of this story, you should know that U.S. Congressman Michael Burgess, in addition to representing the 26th District, was once an actual, practicing OB-GYN. He did his residency at Parkland and had a practice in Lewisville for 26 years. His medical license is still active. And he wants you to know that because male fetuses appear to masturbate, he'd like to see an extreme and very early ban on all abortions.
How did Burgess get the elbow room to expound publicly on his chicken-choking theories, you may ask? As RH Reality Check reports, the House is gearing up today to debate a bill outlawing virtually all abortions in the United States after 20 weeks. Authored by Rep. Trent Franks, H.R. 1797 has been dubbed the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act."
Sound familiar yet? Yep, the same shitty science that has led your anti-abortion state legislators to claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation has also taken hold in Congress. As the AP reported, the legislation will likely pass the House today, then be ignored entirely by the Democrat-controlled Senate. And even if it did somehow make it through there, the White House has said they'll veto the bill if it gets anywhere near them.
And yet. The mere fact that the bill exists has allowed anti-abortion Republicans to air some of their favorite theories on fetushood. During a House Rules Committee discussion on the bill, as you can see from the video above, Burgess spoke up, and Internet history was made. Due to his experience delivering thousands of babies, he said, "There's no question in my mind that a baby at 20 weeks can feel pain. The fact of the matter is I argued with the Chairman that I thought the date was far too late. we should be setting this at 15 weeks, 16 weeks...Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. 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?"
Let's just get this out of the way right now: do fetuses masturbate in utero? Is Burgess, ahem, onto something here? Not really, as the Atlantic found. Two Italian doctors discovered in 1996 that a (female!) fetus appeared to masturbate. But that was at 32 weeks, twice the gestational age at which Burgess wants abortion banned. In a delightful TED talk, science writer Mary Roach points out that other researchers have seen similar movements in very late-term fetuses, although what's going on isn't quite clear.
But pleasure, pain or the lack thereof isn't really the point here. Burgess is an old hand at restricting abortion any way he can, boasting on his webpage of having written "the bylaws at the Medical Center of Lewisville and two Denton County surgery centers prohibiting abortions from being performed on the premises." He's an old hand, too, at voting in support of useless anti-abortion bills, voting for an "abortion pain" bill back in 2006 and an identical "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" last July.
But the Masturbating Fetus Argument, dumb and bizarre as it is, represents a new threshold in anti-abortion weirdness. That is: that a fetus seemingly making "pleasurable" movements outweighs the wishes, desires and medical needs of the woman carrying that fetus.
Also, Congressman Burgess: what, girl fetuses can't masturbate too? Maybe we need another Congressional hearing to hash this out. Right after we all start a band called the Masturbating Fetuses. Better get to it quick; everyone on Twitter has the same idea.