“Should we give fetuses painkillers before we abort them?”
That’s the title of Jeff Guo’s March 26 Washington Post report on a bill subsequently passed by the Montana Legislature stipulating that any abortion performed after 20 weeks (five months) be preceded by anesthetization of the unborn child. The bill was vetoed by pro-abortion Governor Steve Bullock on April 30.
The “Montana Unborn Child Pain and Suffering Prevention Act” (HB 479, sections 1-4) was introduced as a basic humanitarian measure: Although its sponsor, Kalispell Republican Albert Olszewski, is pro-life, he presented the bill as one on which reasonable people might agree—if abortion might be painful to a fellow human creature, shouldn’t steps be taken to prevent the pain?
At 20 weeks, the unborn child’s heart has been beating for 17 weeks; brain waves have been detectable for 13; every organ a human being will ever have has been in place for 12; eyes, hands, and lips have formed; the child has sleep cycles, can grasp with its hand, and can be felt moving. (Once upon a time, in English common law—the root of our jurisprudence—this constituted “quickening,” after which abortion was regarded, in the words of Blackstone, as “very heinous.”)
Whether or not a child this developed can experience pain is a matter of physiological fact (see http://nrlc.djcweb.net/abortion/fetalpain/).
But the Washington Post would like to turn that factual statement into a philosophical one: “Whether those signals are interpreted as pain—whether they are truly and consciously felt—is a question that can only be answered with a better understanding of the fetal brain, and better understanding of consciousness.”
A bait-and-switch conversion of the argument from fact to philosophy allows one to posit that the whole debate is one of “opinion”—about which de gustibus non disputandum—and to legitimize the unrestricted abortion license created by Roe v. Wade and its Constitutional progeny.
“I stand firmly opposed to restrictions on a woman’s ability to make deeply personal medical decisions,” insisted Governor Bullock when vetoing the bill.
But HB 479 had already been watered down during the legislative process, essentially to allow a woman to opt out of anesthetization if she so chose; in its final version the bill simply set a default State policy any woman could readily bypass.
Bullock’s veto message doesn’t engage any of the facts of fetal development. As Bennett Cerf (and others) once quipped: “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts!” And don’t confuse those who have yet to make up their minds.
That is, after all, what pro-abortionists most fear. That is why they have consistently resisted informed-consent laws that would permit doctors to show a woman an ultrasound of her child, to explain fetal development to her, and to tell her that the child might feel pain during the abortion procedure. That is why they are alarmed by recent legislation in Kansas and Oklahoma banning dismemberment abortions after 20 weeks. If the truth comes out, the whole edifice upholding abortion on demand is suddenly exposed in all its rickety, non-scientific mendacity. The unrestricted abortion license survives only as long as anything that humanizes the unborn child is rigorously excluded from debate.
But even if you want to argue philosophy, let’s try this.
A basic principle of classical philosophy is that you can know a cause from its effects. Effects do not happen without a cause.
So if you have the effect of fetal reaction to any external stimulus at 20 weeks, it indicates the unborn child can indeed feel. If he encounters something, he may try to reach or grasp. If he is poked or prodded, he moves away. Neural pathways carry signals. Stress hormones are detectable.
Or, as once-upon-a-time abortionist Bernard Nathanson documented thirty years ago, the unborn child, in his closed environment, releases a “silent scream.”
Yes, effects point to causes. Stress hormones, neural signals, recoiling or withdrawal responses point to those negative stimuli (i.e., pain) having been felt.
Let’s even use the abortion establishment’s own procedures to test the philosophical question. Many late-term abortionists first inject the unborn child with a massive dose of digoxin, directly to the heart. Digoxin, a cardiac drug not intended for use in abortions, induces a massive heart attack, obviating the problem late-term abortionists sometimes face: That is, the child emerging alive before being successfully dismembered in the birth canal. (Partial-birth abortion, which has been banned by Congress, can be legally performed if the child is killed before the procedure begins.) Now, if the tissue in this “blob of tissue” we call the heart acts like a heart when exposed to an overdose of digoxin, i.e., it ceases beating, then doesn’t the effect—a stopped heart—bring you back to the cause, a beating human heart? Because abortion always stops a beating heart.
In the early days of the pro-life movement, the late Dr. Jack Willke, author of the classic Handbook on Abortion, always included color plates of the unborn child’s development and actual photographs of aborted babies in his works. Lennart Nilsson’s 1965 Life photo essay, “Drama of Life Before Birth,” which became the 1990 book, A Child Is Born, provided a full-color look into the womb. Bernard Nathanson hoped that the proof of the child’s humanity which photography provided would be corroborated by the insights of ultrasound—a real-time look at life in the womb. That’s why he pioneered his videos: “Silent Scream” and “Eclipse of Reason.”
(Paradoxically, even the quack abortionist Kermit Gosnell—now serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania for murder and manslaughter, admitted that after seeing “Silent Scream” he began his notorious practice of “snipping,” i.e., cutting the spinal cords of babies born alive through partial-birth abortion. In his post-trial interview of Gosnell, Steve Volk, author of Gosnell’s Babies, explained that the Philadelphia abortionist adopted this unusual practice to “end every sensation of the fetus, quickly and in the most humane manner possible. . . . And in this way he made his peace with what he had seen six years earlier on [Nathanson’s] ultrasound.”)
Unfortunately, reason remains eclipsed, especially among those not wanting to be bothered (or to “bother” others) with the facts. Philosophy also recognizes that vincible ignorance—pretending to be ignorant so one can plead “I didn’t know”—does not diminish responsibility or culpability.
Photos of the aborted unborn have gradually disappeared: In part because of the censorship of a largely pro-abortion media, in part because prolifers have sometimes believed (not wholly without cause) that such graphic and grisly pictures could alienate people from the movement. That is a choice.
But I am not sure that the total eclipse of visual evidence is a good thing. Attacking abortion means reestablishing in peoples’ minds—and in the culture’s—that the unborn are persons (and not just “blobs of tissue”). The pictures—before and after abortion—support that. It’s hard to believe that something that looks like a child, moves like a child, seems vulnerable like a child, and recoils from pain like a child . . . isn’t a child. And that then raises the question of what are we doing?
Because in America today, what we do to a 20-week-old unborn child we wouldn’t do to a seal. Or a dog. In Montana, for instance, “tormenting, injuring, or killing any animal” by mistreatment or negligence can get you up to two years in jail. Tormenting, injuring, or killing an unborn child will, however, get you a gubernatorial defense.
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John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ (USA).
 The fact that every lower House Democrat voted against the bill, even after it was diluted to the extent that the anesthetization requirement only became a default position that a pregnant woman could in practice bypass suggests that efforts to find “common ground” on abortion will founder: the only “common ground” abortionists will accept is one that makes no societal value judgment of abortion in any way. That means, in practice, that the quest for “common ground” will be successful only when one ceases to be pro-life. On the other hand, even the ancient Romans—not particularly known for sensitivity—gave those condemned to crucifixion a drug to ease their pain: see Matthew 27:34.
 One example is the very painful collection of post-abortion images gathered by Professor Monica Migliorino Miller from her efforts to provide a humane burial to victims of abortion who are often simply discarded or even burned alongside animal remains, under the “Abortion Images” tab of http://www.prolifesociety.com/prolifesociety/pages/AboutUs/standard/aboutus.aspx