By Lily Batchelor
October is a month many Americans hold dear, the weather is getting colder, leaves are changing color, and there’s a certain spooky feeling in the air as Halloween draws near. However this October that spooky feeling was less about carved pumpkins, haunted houses, and Showtime’s Halloween marathon, and much more about the horror of men in our government trying to limit women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. What made it even more terrifying? The fact that one of these bills is based on what scientists are referring to as “junk science.”
The first bill is presented under the Affordable Care Act and would undermine the requirement that all insurance plans must cover a woman’s birth control. This means women can be denied birth control from their company owner or manager, due to any moral or religious beliefs the owner may harbor. According to Planned Parenthood nearly 9/10 women will use birth control in her lifetime, meaning the changes to the Affordable Care Act could leave millions of women without birth control and increase contraceptive costs to state-funded programs.
The second bill is called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and would make it illegal for women to have an abortion after 20 weeks (5 months) of pregnancy, with the exception of unsafe pregnancies or a pregnancy due to rape or incest. The law is based on the idea that at 20 weeks a fetus can feel pain and according to Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will protect the voiceless, the vulnerable, and the marginalized,” as reported by Vox.
Included in the bill is a section that talks about the science surrounding the decision to try and pass this law, stating “There is substantial evidence that an unborn child is capable of feeling pain at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, if not earlier.” However many scientists and experts have concluded the evidence suggested in the bill is false information. Vox reports that Amy Friedrich-Karnik, senior federal policy adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights, has accused the bill of “basically relying on junk science.”
Karnik is not alone in her rejection of the evidence. Jennifer Conti, clinical assistant professor and OB-GYN at Stanford University and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health explained to a Metro reporter, “There’s actually conclusive evidence that shows that the neurologic structures in a fetus aren’t completely laid down and working yet until much further along in pregnancy, we think even the third trimester,” Twenty weeks, she says, “is just an arbitrary limit set in place by politicians that has no medical or scientific backing.”
In 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a study that showed the structures needed for a fetus to feel pain does not develop until about 23 to 30 weeks gestation’ and studies done concerning premature children conclude pain cannot be felt until 29 - 30 weeks. Vox reports that Mark S. DeFrancesco, speaking on behalf of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists regarding the evidence, says that “No research since its [JAMA study] publication has contradicted its findings.”
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has a similar finding, concluding that there is no evidence the cortex or any other point of the body is “wired up” before 24 weeks gestation, stating “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.”
Although it is unlikely the bill will pass in the Senate, the consequences of the claim are still severe. Not only is the Act spreading false information and science, but it is attempting to use that information to make it more difficult for a woman to end an unwanted pregnancy due to the arbitrary time limit of 20 weeks.
Cover photo: Pixabay