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Published On: Thu, Jul 11th, 2013

Abortion bill sparks further debate on whether a 20 week fetus can feel pain

The House of Representatives passed a law on Tuesday banning abortions after 20 weeks across the country, based largely on scientific assertions that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.

 photo Ivon19 via wikimedia commons

photo Ivon19 via wikimedia commons

Pro-choice articles on Slate and Mother Jones were quick to point out how the argument is invalid.

“In the debate on Tuesday, House members repeatedly cited the research of Dr. Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, a University of Tennessee professor of pediatrics, anesthesiology, and neurobiology who has promoted the idea that 20 weeks post-conception is the point when a fetus begins to feel pain,” Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones writes.

Then she countered: “But Anand is an outlier. A 2005 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed the medical literature and found little evidence to support his conclusions. There is an established body of evidence that finds that fetuses start developing the biological pathways related to pain sensation at this stage of gestation, but there is not enough evidence to suggest that they can actually experience pain as we do. The majority of the scientific literature on the subject finds that the brain connections required to feel pain are not formed until at least 24 weeks.

 After a Nebraska law banned abortions after 20 weeks, similar bills have been proposed in several states. During the debate in Minnesota, the 20-week pain issue was raised and several doctors agreed with the assertion.

  • “The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies,” explains Steven Calvin, M.D., perinatologist, chair of the Program in Human Rights Medicine, University of Minnesota, where he teaches obstetrics.
  •  “At 20 weeks, the fetal brain has the full complement of brain cells present in adulthood, ready and waiting to receive pain signals from the body, and their electrical activity can be recorded by standard electroencephalography (EEG).”— Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist, University of Toronto
  • “An unborn baby at 20 weeks gestation “is fully capable of experiencing pain. … Without question, [abortion] is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such a surgical procedure.”— Robert J. White, M.D., PhD., professor of neurosurgery, Case Western University
  • “Having administered anesthesia for fetal surgery, I know that on occasion we need to administer anesthesia directly to the fetus, because even at these early gestational ages the fetus moves away from the pain of the stimulation,” stated David Birnbach, M.D., president of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology and self-described as “pro-choice,” in testimony before the U.S. Congress.

So while the debate continues, Dr. Anand may be the “outlier” that he portrayed to be by pro-choice writers.

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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  1. Dispatch Radio: July 13, 2013 – Constance ‘Happy’ Dickey talks lyme disease, abortion in news, ‘Red 2′ film review - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] Debate continues: Does a 20-week fetus feel pain – more coverage here […]

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