Ideology vs. Reality

One of my (innumerable) pet peeves, as you may have already guessed, is the legislation of morality and science – specifically, evolutionary biology and medicine – by those who claim enough of a moral high ground to justify overriding the judgment of people who are actually qualified in the field.

Case in point, the recent bill passed in Tennessee that protects the rights of the student to “challenge current scientific thought and theory”, implying that a group of first-year biology students have the educational background and research capacity to overturn decades of scientific theory because they’ve learned just enough to start asking questions.  Or the prohibition on intact dilation and extraction, known by the political moniker of the “partial birth abortion“, even though it is comparatively one of the safest methods to carry out a late term abortion.  Or, more recently, the requirement that all women requesting an abortion must submit to getting a medically unnecessary trans-vaginal ultrasound before they can proceed.  (I know it’s not medically necessary because if it were, we wouldn’t need a law to mandate it.)

Or how about Nebraska’s “fetal pain” legislation, which bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation?  Never mind the fact that it’s not based on actual medical evidence, which suggests fetuses don’t feel pain until the 28th week or so, but even then it’s not certain … that didn’t stop Nebraska’s state legislature!

And it allowed something like this to happen:

Danielle Deaver Denied Abortion Even as Uterus Crushed Fetus

Danielle Deaver was 22 weeks pregnant when her water broke and doctors gave her a devastating prognosis: With undeveloped lungs, the baby likely would never survive outside the womb, and because all the amniotic fluid had drained, the tiny growing fetus slowly would be crushed by the uterus walls.

After having had three miscarriages, Deaver and her husband, Robb Deaver, looked for every medical way possible to save the baby. Deaver’s prior pregnancy ended the same way at 15 weeks, and doctors induced her to spare the pain.

But this time, when the couple sought the same procedure, doctors could not legally help them.

Just one month earlier, Nebraska had enacted the nation’s first fetal pain legislation, banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation. So the Deavers had to wait more than a week to deliver baby Elizabeth, who died after just 15 minutes.

“They could do nothing to make it better but tell us to wait, which made it worse,” Danielle Deaver said. “Every time I felt movement, I was terrified she was hurting and trying to push the uterus away from her.”

My health was at risk, as well,” she added. “We decided going forward it [premature labor] would be inevitable and we wanted nature to take its course. We were told we couldn’t do that.”

Under the law, doctors could face felony charges, five years in prison and a $10,000 fine by authorizing the procedure.

So when the Deavers realized that Danielle’s pregnancy had essentially gone wrong, the amniotic fluid drained, and her unborn child would spend the rest of its pre-natal existence slowly being crushed to death by her mother’s uterus, with only a 10% chance of survival after birth …

… they weren’t allowed to induce premature labor and end the pregnancy because the State of Nebraska didn’t want her unborn child to feel any pain.  I’ll let you crunch the numbers on that one for a moment.  Meanwhile, enter the sponsor of this steaming pile of legislation:

“It’s a very sad situation all around,” said Rep. Pam Peterson, who sponsored the Oklahoma bill. “It’s about the humanness. These unborn babies are in excruciating pain in the abortion process at 20 weeks.”We know they feel pain early on — there is medical evidence.”

Bullshit.  I’ll start with some evidence of my own, supporting my position that when you say you “know” fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, you’re lying:

Lee SJ, Ralston HJ, Drey EA, Partridge JC, Rosen MA (2005). “Fetal pain: a systematic multidisciplinary review of the evidence”. JAMA 294 (8): 947–54. doi:10.1001/jama.294.8.947. PMID 16118385

“Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates
that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques.

Fetal Awareness – Review of Research and Recommendations for Practice“.  Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists p. 22 June 2010.

In reviewing the neuroanatomical and physiological evidence in the fetus, it was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation. […] Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that the fetus never experiences a state of true wakefulness in utero and is kept, by the presence of its chemical environment, in a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation.

Derbyshire, S.W.G. (2006). Can fetuses feel pain?. British Medical Journal, 332 (7546), 909-12. Retrieved 2006-12-23. Fetus Cannot Feel Pain, Expert Says“, Forbes (2006-04-14). Retrieved via Archive.org 2008-04-13.

The neural circuitry for pain in fetuses is immature.  More importantly, the developmental processes necessary for the mindful experience of pain are not yet developed.  An absence of pain in the fetus does not resolve the question of whether abortion is morally acceptable or should be legal.  Nevertheless, proposals to inform women seeking abortions of the potential for pain in fetuses are not supported by evidence.  Legal or clinical mandates for interventions to prevent such pain are scientifically unsound and may expose women to inappropriate interventions, risks, and distress.  Avoiding a discussion of fetal pain with women requesting abortions is not misguided paternalism, but a sound policy based on good evidence that fetuses cannot feel pain.

And Pam, spare us your disingenuous platitudes by calling this tragedy of your own design a “sad situation all around”.  This “sad situation” could have been avoided if licensed medical professionals had been allowed to do what they were trained to do instead of being legislated into inaction by uninformed communications graduates from Oral Roberts University.  Tell me, how does your former job as a television spokesperson qualify you to decide when fetuses can feel pain?  Or are you just relying on the expertise of people who already agree with your position that abortion should just be made as difficult as possible, regardless of the born, living, breathing people it harms in measurable ways?

Oh, and I see you passed another bill recently:  SB 1274 – Requires physicians inform abortion patients of fetal heartbeat.  Still fighting the good fight, I see.  Just a piece of advice:  maybe some of these “sad situations” you lament will occur less frequently when you and your brothers and sisters in god stop legislating medicine and science as if you know what the hell you’re doing.  Let the people with degrees in these fields make the appropriate decisions based on evidence and rational thought … not fear, paranoia, and an adherence to some archaic ideological agenda that has no place in our world.

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6 Responses to Ideology vs. Reality

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