The definiton of "fetal pain" is one of the most controversial of all abortion controversies. And one of the sticking points in the pro-life/pro-choice battle just got stickier. From a pro-lifer's perspective, it's pretty simple: fetus plus pain = bad. So what happens when fetal pain creates room for abortion?
Because a mom whose fetus was being slowly crushed by her uterus was denied an abortion in Nebraska. The reason? Nebraska law says no abortions after 20 weeks. That's supposed to protect the fetus from pain. It's literally called "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act."
Now let's repeat those words, shall we? Fetus. Crushed. By her uterus. Sounds, well, painful, doesn't it? Especially under the Nebraska law!
According to the Nebraska law:
Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout an unborn child's entire body by 16 weeks after fertilization and nerves link these receptors to the brain's thalamus and subcortical plate by 20 weeks. By eight weeks after fertilization, an unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example by recoiling.
Science disagrees. But as long as the law stands for one Nebraskan, it should stand for all, correct?
But that same Nebraska law was fine with Danielle Deaver's fetus being crushed by her uterus. Because Deaver -- a mother of one who was trying for another healthy baby like so many parents do -- was 22 weeks pregnant when her water broke, and the amniotic fluid began leaking out of her uterus. As she told reporters:
What we learned from the perinatologist was that because there was no cushion, she couldn't move her arms and legs because of contractures [sic]. And her face and head would be deformed because the uterus pushed down so hard.
Deaver wanted the doctors to just take the baby immediately, knowing she couldn't survive outside the womb, knowing that Nebraska law claimed their daughter was feeling pain. But the Nebraska law said they couldn't do that. It didn't matter that by their own rubric, Nebraska legislators had essentially said it would be more merciful for Danielle Deaver to have an abortion. Because her fetus still had a heartbeat, and she was not in danger of dying herself, they wouldn't allow it. Under the guise of protecting fetuses from pain, Danielle Deaver was told HER fetus should suffer.
Danielle Deaver's pregnancy lasted another eight days. Elizabeth Deaver lived 15 minutes, her malformed lungs gasping for breath outside her mother's uterus before she died in her mother's arms, her dad, Rob, at her side. But it didn't have to happen. If Nebraska applied its laws justly rather than via a partisan agenda.
Fetal pain is a controversial issue because science differs greatly from the claims of the Nebraska legislature, the claims of many pro-life advocates. But this case proves fetal pain is an even more controversial issue -- because if it's true, fetal pain sounds like should be cause FOR an abortion, not to prevent one.
Image via Morten Liebach/Flickr