Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Reaction to science: Abortion and pain

From the Times:

Taking on one of the most highly charged questions in the abortion debate, a team of doctors has concluded that fetuses probably cannot feel pain in the first six months of gestation and therefore do not need anesthesia during abortions.

Their report, being published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on a review of several hundred scientific papers, and it says that nerve connections in the brain are unlikely to have developed enough for the fetus to feel pain before 29 weeks.

The finding poses a direct challenge to proposed federal and state laws that would compel doctors to tell women having abortions at 20 weeks or later that their fetuses can feel pain and to offer them anesthesia specifically for the fetus.

About 1.3 million abortions a year are performed in the United States, 1.4 percent of them at 21 weeks or later.

It's an interesting story, however disturbing. I tend to be pro-choice, but I'm certainly not pro-abortion, especially when it comes to later-term procedures, and the fact that even, say, a five-month-old fetus doesn't feel pain doesn't make me feel any better about the procedure itself. But this story raises again the fundamental question of when life begins, not to mention the highly politicized question of when abortion becomes homicide. To me, these are still questions that both sides of the debate need to consider more fully than they do at present.

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