Lawmakers are voting on a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks, saying that's when a fetus feels pain. Doctors disagree.
- The Senate is voting today on two anti-abortion laws that are at odds with medicine.
- One seeks to ban abortion at 20 weeks and is based on the baseless theory that that's when a fetus can feel pain.
- The other could land doctors in jail if they don't attempt to "preserve the life and health" of a fetus after an unsuccessful abortion attempt.
- The medical consensus is that something akin to pain is first felt at 28 weeks, and legislation like the latter proposal forces doctors to "induce fetal demise" before proceeding with the abortion.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
On Tuesday afternoon, the US Senate is voting on two bills that would restrict abortion access and undermine doctors' best judgment and women's desires.
Both bills have been proposed before, and failed to pass, as they're expected to do this time. But the move attempts to capitalize on President Trump's efforts to appeal to anti-abortion voters and give senators a chance to make their stance on abortion rights known in a key election year, CNN's Caroline Kelly reports.
One bill, dubbed "the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," seeks to forbid abortions at 20 weeks, with its backers saying that's when the fetus can feel pain. (Roe v. Wade establishes the cutoff at 24 weeks.) An OB-GYN told Insider the medical consensus is that pain is first felt around 28 weeks, but it's not the type of
The other bill, called "the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act," could land abortion providers in prison for up to five years if they don't attempt to "preserve the life and health" of a fetus after an attempted abortion just like they would a newborn.
Both bills are rooted in politics, not medicine, and could ultimately harm women, their families, and their doctors, experts say.
"Simply put, these bills shouldn't even exist," Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said in a statement emailed to media. "They spread junk science and medically inaccurate myths aimed at restricting women and patients from making decisions about their own health and lives."
Medical professionals agree fetal pain is likely first experienced around 28 weeks
The first bill's notion that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks doesn't align with the medical community's consensus, Dr. Sarah Prager, an associate professor in UW Medicine's department of obstetrics and gynecology, told Insider.
While the concept of fetal pain is complicated, she said, well-done studies show "the earliest fetuses feel pain is probably around 28 weeks." Even that's not the type of pain adults feel since a fetus's pain pathways are still in development at that point, she said.
As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists puts it, pain is an "emotional and psychological experience" that requires the feeler to be aware of whatever's causing the pain. That ability, it adds, doesn't develop until the third trimester at the earliest.
Plus, ACOG adds, "the evidence shows that the neural circuitry necessary to distinguish touch from painful touch does not, in fact, develop until late in the third trimester."
The law would force doctors to give fetuses a lethal injection before an abortion — despite no benefit to the fetus, and a risk of harm to the woman
During most surgical abortions, a fetus can't survive because the procedure first involves disrupting the umbilical cord or placenta, Prager explained.
It's true that during a medical abortion — taking medications to induce labor — a fetus with "transient signs of life" could result. But these types of abortions are typically limited to women who've been pregnant 10 weeks or less, when the fetus is about the size of a grape and weighs less than a nickel.
Still, laws like the one proposed essentially force doctors to give fetuses or the fluid around them an injection that stops the heartbeat before giving women the medications in order to avoid the repercussions of removing pregnancy tissue with any fleeting sign of life.
That strategy, when dictated by law rather than patient-provider choice, is a problem because it comes with some risk to the patient with no benefit to the fetus, Prager said. Plus, it undermines the physician's best judgment and the woman's wishes.
"It's unethical" to force doctors into the procedure, Prager said, especially if a patient prefers to avoid it.
Doctors could face jail time for not trying to resuscitate an aborted fetus — even though there is zero chance of survival before 20 weeks
If a fetus from an attempted abortion did show signs of life, there are no guidelines on what a resuscitatable fetus is, Prager said.
"If there are transient signs of life at 18 weeks, would a provider be forced to try to resuscitate, even though there is zero chance of survival?" Prager asks.
More broadly, she said, the proposed legislation mischaracterizes why abortions are performed in the first place. "100% of the time it's because a patient is requesting or requiring this procedure, which is necessary for improving or saving the patient's life," she said.
"In this scenario, the ethical and moral and medical obligation is to the patient, not the fetus."
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