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Does A Fetus Feel Pain? Anti-Abortion Study Says Yes, But Doctors It Cites Say No

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Abortion opponents have won a number of legislative victories at the state level recently, and while banning abortion remains unconstitutional under the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, anti-abortion advocates have been chipping away at the right to abortion rather than eliminating it completely.

Since 2010, 12 states have passed laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In most of these cases, the rationale for the 20 week limit is scientific “evidence” that the unborn fetus can feel pain starting at 20 weeks old.

The evidence is summed up in a “report” entitled, “Fetal Pain: The Evidence.” The report has been widely circulated by anti-abortion groups, including the leading National Right to LIfe Committe.

Now, doctors who the abortion opponents frequently cite in the report are speaking out. These doctors state that their work was distorted by the abortion opponents, and that there is no evidence that fetuses can experience pain as early as 20 weeks — and plenty of evidence that they can’t.

Dr. Nicholas Fisk, past president of the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society told the New York Times this week that though he once believed that fetal pain was possible at that early stage, new research has convinced him that it is, in fact, “not possible at all.”

Despite his definitive change of opinion, the “Fetal Pain” study cites Fisk’s work 27 times.

A scientist at the University of California at San Francisco, Dr. Mark Rosen, is top researcher in fetal anesthesia, the science of how to prevent fetuses from feeling pain in cases where surgery must be performed.

The “Evidence” study relies of Rosen’s work with 16 citations, saying that his work proves that fetuses experinece pain — otherwise anesthesia would be unneccessary.

But Rosen told the Times that fetal anesthesia has nothing to do with whether or not fetuses feel pain. In cases of fetal surgery, anesthesia given to the mother renders the fetus unable to feel pain if it even could in the first place.

The fact remains that 98.5 percent of abortions are performed prior to 21 weeks anyway.

SOURCES: New York Times, Slate, Doctors On Fetal Pain, National Right To Life Committee