To any who would cry foul at the idea that sexism is still alive and well today, I would point to the latest tactics of th so-called “pro-life” movement. By shifting the attention to the fetus, they are trying to drive home the fact that the woman has, since conception, become a mere vessel for the child. Her life becomes secondary to that of the fetus she is now carrying. In fact, regulations by the CDC suggest that all women should consider themselves “pre-pregnant,” basically preparing her body, or baby factory, to be ready at all times to be taken over, her will or consent notwithstanding, by pregnancy.
Well, as a pre-pregnant female, I now spend my days crocheting baby booties and reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting (In The Next 10-20 Years) and signing up for Google alerts on fetal health, which is how this article found its way to my hands.
The author, Annie Murphy Paul, writes about recent developments in our understanding of fetal pain, namely, that it’s controversial. The article begins by citing how treatment of premature infants has changed since experiments measuring infant stress levels show that levels are significantly lower when they have been administered anesthesia.
Many leading scientists caution, however, that the way they measure pain is an imperfect science. We can never compare the way a fully developed human process brain signals to the way a fetus might. After all, as one scientist cautioned, “A fetus is not a baby who just hasn’t been born yet.”
But, of course, hanging over neonatal health developments is the specter of the pro-life movement, which appears to have latched on to this new and controversial science like a dog to a bone. While some scientists have decided that fetal pain, as much as we can understand it, develops at 20 weeks, others insist that it occurs “relatively late” in the pregnancy. Opponents to this “pain at 20 weeks” idea call such a concept “a shoddy, sentimental argument.”
Yet, shoddy and sentimental is just the kind of science the conservatives in Congress love. After all, need we reminisce long on Bill Frist’s air-tight diagnosis of Terri Schiavo from hundreds of miles away? Already, states, as well as the U.S. senate, have introduced legislation that, before an abortion, requires the doctor tell his patient the fetus can feel pain and offer (or require) the administration of anesthesia for the fetus.
The message from the Right is clear: the pain they are worried about is not the woman’s. The life they are worried about is not the woman’s. Hijacking science, they are trying to alter society’s perceptions of the fetus in dangerous ways.
Marshall Bright is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an intern at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, ACLU of Pennsylvania