C Rulon: Abortion & fetal idolatry – Part 3 (Pain and suffering)

By | March 28, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

No fetal pain until 28th week

By 8 weeks a fetus in utero will react to needle stimu­lation. But as with paraplegics, this is a reflex media­ted by the spinal cord, not the brain. It’s not a conscious reaction and no pain can be experienced. Although fetuses have started to form pain receptors by 8 weeks, the thalamus (that part of the brain which routes information to other areas) doesn’t start to form until after the 20th week. Without the thalamus, no information can reach the cortex for processing. That includes the nerves from the skin and other pain-sensitive areas. Thus, no aware­ness of pain is possible.

Finally by the 28th week the necessary nerve pathways have formed so that the fetus might begin to experience pain. Even then, the myelin sheath (the insulating cover on nerves that is required for efficient conduction of pain signals) does not begin to form around neurons in the spinal chord until about the 24th week and is not found in most of the cerebral cortex until after birth.[1]

On the other hand, the global suf­­fer­ing to women and girls with unwanted pregnancies due to medieval religious dogmas, entrenched patri­archal laws and customs, the desire to punish “loose” women, plus pro­found ignorance and grind­­ing pov­erty is simply staggering.[2]

Pregnancy can be extremely dangerous

Preg­nancy constitutes a major biological invasion with potentially dangerous conse­quences. Pregnant women exper­ience 7-9 months of sym­p­toms of varying sev­erity, often includ­ing nausea, vomiting, bloating, insom­nia, varicose veins, hemorr­hoids, back pain and indigestion. Their uteruses increase to over 500 times regular size. One out of four needs serious medical attention. Finally, preg­nan­cies cul­mi­nate in a physiologi­cal crisis that can be excru­ci­atingly pain­ful and occasionally fatal.

Pregnancy is particularly dangerous for the world’s poor. Every year throughout Africa, Asia and Central and South America 600,000 women and girls die worldwide every year from pregnancy and childbirth (140,000 bleed to death, 100,000 die from infection, 40,000 die from the agony of prolonged labor, 75,000 women die each year trying to end their pregnancies.) Most of these women are in their teens and early twenties. They have been coerced by their societies into bearing children at a young age and far too frequently.[3]

Restrictive abortion laws have not stopped the large majority of abortions any­where on Earth according to a 2007 study from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. Every year on our planet some 20 million women with unwanted pregnancies are desperate enough to attempt a self-induced abortion or to seek out a danger­ous illegal one. The U.N. estimates that 50,000 women and girls try to self-induce each day. Millions end up in hospitals hemorrhaging and badly infected. Over 70,000 die each year. UNICEF’s statistics show that for every woman who dies, 30 survive with gruesome injuries and disabilities. Many will face life-long, disabling pain. The seriously injured and dead often leave behind young, unattended children whose chances for survival are bleak.

Add to that the exhausting burden of repeated pregnancies and births, and you have a global picture of suffering on the part of women that demands a global response. Of the millions of women each year who are coerced into carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, hun­dreds of thou­sands will die from pregnancy-related com­pli­cations.

These deaths and tragic injuries are almost entirely preventable. Yet, they go on year after year while powerful religious men and their male political allies (lackeys) continue to publicly revere the sanctity of mind­less, senseless embryos and fetuses, buttressed by pseudo-science and pseudo-history, and attempt to outlaw abortions. In the meanwhile, U.S. support for family planning information and services has been slashed and a concerted effort to block emergency contraception and abortion has intensified.[4]

Fetal idolaters and dishonest propaganda

When informed about all the above pain and suffering, the fetal idolaters and other anti-choice supporters respond that “murdering the innocent unborn” is a barbaric solution to unwanted pregnancies and continue to obsess over the imagined “excruciating pain” experienced by fetuses being aborted.

“It is unbearable to contemplate the ex­cruci­ating pain the unborn must feel as their lives are torn asunder. It is a wrenching nightmare to see in the mind’s eye the delicate little hand of an unborn infant reaching out play­fully to touch the very curette that is poised to rip him apart.”

— U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch

The Silent Scream

In order to more dramatically create the illu­sion that a tiny mindless senseless fetus is actually a conscious sentient baby aware of in­tense pain, the anti-choice/ pro-forced-pregnancy-continuation activists pro­duc­ed a 28-minute propa­ganda film enti­tled The Silent Scream. This film was viewed by former Presi­dents Rea­gan and Bush Sr. and by the entire U.S. Con­gress, each of whom re­portedly received a personal copy. It has now been seen by over fifty million Americans in churches and in schools throughout the country and can quickly be found on the web.

The Silent Scream depicts a 2nd trimester abor­tion through the use of ultrasound visualization. Although all the audi­­ence re­ally sees are black-and-white moving blobs, it’s the narra­tor’s voice-over that’s so chilling as he describes to the audience what they most feared, the tearing to shreds of a scream­ing defenseless tiny human being. Dishonest incendiary propaganda at its best.

“Who Killed Junior”

Another inflammatory propaganda publication to appear (and easily found on the web) was a 24-page car­toon book entitled “Who Killed Junior?” The car­toons trace the growth of a fertilized egg in the womb. By the 6th week “Junior” is depicted as a fully formed baby, standing up and smiling. By the 11th week he is running in place and has a decent command of English. By 12 weeks Junior has his hand cupped to his ear, listening in alarm. The caption says, “His mother and her doc­tor are discussing how to kill him.” Then follows several cartoon pan­els in which the basic methods of abortion are illustrated. In one, Junior screams as he is being sucked out of the womb. In another, he screams as a knife slices him to pieces. A later panel shows a fully formed baby with a knife through him and the caption, “If You’re a Teenage Girl, You Need to Know Abortion Means Killing a Human Being.”

Millions of copies of “Who Killed Junior?” were print­ed and distri­buted to high school students across the coun­try. “Junior” didn’t stop high school students from having sex. But it did increase all of the phy­sical, emotional and social problems that arose when, later, those teens with unwanted pregnancies now felt too guilty to abort and so carried to term.

Closing thoughts

Elevating a tiny, mindless, senseless, partially formed, human em­br­yo or fetus to a help­less, innocent, unborn baby with awareness and feel­ings—a “conscious baby that will under­go excruciat­ing pain as it is torn apart in an abortion”—is dishonest, incendiary propaganda. It is also fetal idolatry according to Rev. John Swomley, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology.[5]

But even if the scientists are wrong and an embryo could feel pain, it doesn’t change the fact that a woman’s personal body integrity is being violated if she is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and to give birth. After all, since we all are legally protected from having our bodies invaded against our will (like being forced to donate blood or bone marrow), even if it means that someone else is then doomed to pain, suffering and even death, why aren’t women who discover they have an unwanted pregnancy given the same right? Yet, anti-choice legis­lators continue to try to pass laws based on medieval patriarchal theo­logies and pseudoscientific propaganda that demean and endanger women and, in effect, treat them as obligatory breeding machines.

[1] S.J. Lee et al., “Fetal pain: A systematic multidisciplinary review of the evidence,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 294(8), 947-954. In addition, see “Fetal Pain: A Red Herring in the Abortion Debate” by Joyce Arthur in Free Inquiry, Aug./Sept. 2005, an excellent summary article with current references.

[2] http://www.populationmedia.org/who/message-from-the-president/

[3] http://www.populationmedia.org/who/message-from-the-president/

[4] Time, March 14, 2011, p. 66. Planned Parenthood and other reproductive care facilities in the U.S. provide information and birth control to about 5 million women a year at over 4,600 health centers. Over one million unintended pregnancies a year are prevented, half of which would likely have ended in an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that for every $1 spent by our taxes for contraceptive care, taxpayers save around $4 in Medicaid costs for mother and baby in just the first year. Only about 3% of Planned Parenthood funds go toward legal abortions, none of which comes from taxes.

[5] http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-06.htm

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