UK report suggests fetuses incapable of feeling pain before 24 weeks

And yes, no matter how fake it looks, “fetuses” actually is the plural of “fetus.” Via The Australian:

THE human foetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks, says an expert review that undermines calls to cut the time limit for abortion.  Nerve connections in the foetal brain do not form fully enough to allow perception of pain until after the 24-week limit for terminating pregnancies, an expert report commissioned by Britain’s Department of Health concluded.The finding, by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, rebuts claims by anti-abortion activists that legal terminations can inflict pain on foetuses. It will undermine the efforts of MPs in Britain who have tried unsuccessfully to reduce the limit in the last parliament, to force another vote.

Professor Allan Templeton, president of the Royal College, who chaired the inquiry, said: “There’s nothing in the report that suggests any need to review the upper limit.”

The Royal College was asked by the Labour government to review the evidence for foetal pain and awareness after the Commons Science and Technology Committee criticised its last report into the issue, published in 1997, as out of date. The conclusions of a working party of doctors, scientists, midwives and ethicists were peer-reviewed by independent experts.

It found that nerve connections to the cortex, the part of the brain that deals with pain and higher mental functions, do not form properly before 24 weeks. “It can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation,” the report said.

Research claimed by anti-abortion campaigners to show that foetuses feel pain was based on evidence from premature babies that did not apply in the womb, Professor Templeton said.

Another finding was that even after 24 weeks, the foetus is naturally sedated and unconscious in the womb. This suggests that even late abortions, which are permitted for serious abnormalities or risks to the mother’s health, are unlikely to result in suffering. The panel also advised that this sedation meant that anaesthetics, which can be risky, are not required when a foetus undergoes surgery.

A second Royal College report, into abortion for foetal abnormalities, advised that it would be impractical to draw up a list of “serious handicaps” for which late abortions can be permitted.

Some campaigners had demanded greater clarity following reports of late abortions for correctable conditions such as cleft palate. Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the issue of foetal pain had been politicised: “Women and doctors need to be able to make informed decisions based on what science says, not what advocates (whether pro-choice or anti-choice) wish it said.”

Anti-abortion groups said the report did not challenge other arguments for a lower limit. “Performing abortion humanely does not justify the fact that you are terminating a human life,” said Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics.


Pew on Millennials, religion, and moral questions

Back in my day, we called ourselves Generation Y.

But anyway, via the Pew Forum, a possible snapshot of what our political landscape will look like:

Compared with their elders today, young people are much less likely to affiliate with any religious tradition or to identify themselves as part of a Christian denomination. Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” This compares with less than one-fifth of people in their 30s (19%), 15% of those in their 40s, 14% of those in their 50s and 10% or less among those 60 and older. About two-thirds of young people (68%) say they are members of a Christian denomination and 43% describe themselves as Protestants, compared with 81% of adults ages 30 and older who associate with Christian faiths and 53% who are Protestants.

According to the 2007 Religious Landscape Survey, almost twice as many young adults say homosexuality should be accepted by society as do those ages 65 and older (63% vs. 35%). Young people are also considerably more likely than those ages 30-49 (51%) or 50-64 (48%) to say that homosexuality should be accepted. Stark age differences also exist within each of the major religious traditions examined. Compared with older members of their faith, significantly larger proportions of young adults say society should accept homosexuality. In the 2008 GSS survey, just over four-in-ten (43%) Millennials said homosexual relations are always wrong, similar to the 47% of Gen Xers who said the same in the late 1990s. These two cohorts are significantly less likely than members of previous generations have ever been to say that homosexuality is always wrong. The views of the various generations on this question have fluctuated over time, often in tandem.

Roughly half of young adults (52%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. On this issue, young adults express slightly more permissive views than do adults ages 30 and older.

But differences between young adults and their elders are not so stark on all moral and social issues. For instance, more than three-quarters of young adults (76%) agree that there are absolute standards of right and wrong, a level nearly identical to that among older age groups (77%). More than half of young adults (55%) say that houses of worship should speak out on social and political matters, slightly more than say this among older adults (49%). And 45% of young adults say that the government should do more to protect morality in society, compared with 39% of people ages 30 and older.

GSS surveys show Millennials are more permissive than their elders are today in their views about pornography, but their views are nearly identical to those expressed by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers when members of those generations were at a similar point in their life cycles. About one-in-five Millennials today say pornography should be illegal for everyone (21%), similar to the 24% of Gen Xers who said this in the late 1990s and the 22% of Boomers who took this view in the late 1970s.Similarly, Millennials at the present time stand out from other generations for their opposition to Bible reading and prayer in schools, but they are less distinctive when compared with members of Generation X or Baby Boomers at a comparable age. During early adulthood, about half of Boomers (51%) and Gen Xers (54%) said they approved of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that banned the required reading of the Lord’s Prayer or Bible verses in public schools; 56% of Millennials took this view in 2008.

Tiller’s murderer gets life sentence

Via the LA Times:

Scott Roeder, the antiabortion extremist who murdered George Tiller, one of a handful of American physicians who performed late-term abortions, was sentenced to life in prison in a Wichita, Kan., courtroom Thursday and will not be eligible for parole for more than 50 years.

Besides the brute fact of a man’s murder in front of his family, what frustrates me most is Roeder’s choice of targets. The vast majority of the late-term abortions Tiller performed were initiated because either the mother’s life was in immediate danger, or because the fetus was unviable. They’re the “exceptional cases” who all but the most dogmatic abortion opponents would admit as justifiable. (“[T]hese abortions, given their excruciating moral and personal choices, may be the most defensible in context of all abortions,” wrote Andrew Sullivan, who gathered the above-linked anecdotes and himself has a highly ambivalent position on abortion.)

“Simply making women watch a computer simulation of their unborn baby saying ‘I love you’ would have been enough”

America’s Finest News Source takes on ultrasound laws.

Stupak amendment’s Senate equivalent fails

It’s called the Nelson in the Senate, or rather, it was, before getting voted down in committee. However, the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Ben Nelson(D-NB) will not  be fillibustering. If my reading of TPM is right, and TPM’s information is right, it looks like the Dems have 60 votes on the bill.

I still remain undecided as to whether or not that is a good thing. Harry Reid (D-NV) is doing nothing to endear me to his cause, if only for giving my Republican friends the opportunity to make equally dumb remarks like

I thought it was Republicans who ended slavery!

That might be true. (Also, way to take credit for something other people did 120-plus years before you were born.) But in the interim, the GOP became the party to oppose (with a coalition of mostly Southern Democrats) most important Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s-70’s. Then, it became the party to make Michael Steel its chair. Which goes to show: The GOP of 1865 is not the GOP of 1963 is not the GOP of 2009. It is no more the Party of Lincoln than the DNC is the Party of Jefferson. Politicians trying to graft themselves to a historic legacy would be good to remember the 91st fragment of Heraclitus, which tells us it is impossible for a man (and, presumably, for a woman) to step in the same river twice.

Abortion, Congress, and Rome

I don’t think any of us, champions, opponents, or agnostics of  the Democratic healthcare overhaul to include heavy incentives for private insurers not to fund abortions, or banning funding outright. As someone supportive of legal access to elective pregnancy termination but against state funding of elective abortions*, I find it disheartening.

At first, when I heard vague chatter of a last-minute amendment banning federal funding of abortions, I reflexively supported it, going so far as to write a headline for a post “Why I support the Stupak Amendment,” but leaving the text blank and to be filled in later. But within minutes, I had learned what the measure actually entails:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment forbids any plan offering abortion coverage in the new system from accepting even one subsidized customer. Since more than 80 percent of the participants in the exchange will be subsidized, it seems certain that all health plans will seek and accept these individuals. In other words, the Stupak-Pitts amendment forces plans in the exchange to make a difficult choice: either offer their product to 80 percent of consumers in the marketplace or offer abortion services in their benefits package. It seems clear which choice they will make.

It looks as if all terminations–even the late-term ones usually performed when the mother’s life is is at grave and immediate risk–will be paid for out-of-pocket if the “reform” passes. I don’t think it would be an injustice if, by coincidence, all private insurers decided as a matter of internal policy not to fund elective abortions; but Stupak’s amendment eliminates the private sector’s possibility of exercising the power of choice on this matter.

 In between my skepticism of the economic feasibility of the plan, concern over measures mandating transparent flattery of fringe cultists, and now this, I find it increasingly difficult to support America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. Moreover, it does not speak well to the health of the Democratic coalition that they are willing to compromise so deeply on one of the harder issues they have traditionally supported. This is the sort of thing that makes people jump ship for the Greens. And nobody wants to loose votes to the Greens.  


TNR is host to a debate on what role Catholicism in Congress played in the passage of Stupak’s amendment. William Galson argues the geographic breakdown of its supporters illustrates the influence of Catholic voters:

Although we lack district-by-district breakdowns of religious affiliation, data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that a majority of the Catholics who supported the Stupak amendment hail from states with above-average Catholic populations, and the ethnic composition of their districts suggests that they have large numbers of Catholic constituents.

Region matters as well. Of the 29 non-Catholic Democrats who voted for the Stupak amendment, 20 hail from conservative southern districts, and two from heavily Catholic districts in Texas and New Mexico. The remaining seven represent conservative-leaning districts in Indiana, Utah, West Virginia, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Ohio.

No Democrats from the western-tier states of Washington and Oregon or the mid-Atlantic states of New York, New Jersey, and Maryland voted for the amendment; of the 21 New England Democrats, only four–all Catholic–supported it.

…while Alan Wolfe says the amendment’s history is a marker of the dissolution of the “Catholic vote” :

The idea that the Catholic Church has a malign influence on American politics goes way back to the Know-Nothings of the nineteenth century and continued up to the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960. Catholics were widely viewed as bloc voters. Unlike more individualistically inclined Protestants, the theory went, Catholics were more committed to principles of group solidarity and institutional loyalty. Living in geographic proximity, they supported urban political bosses who distributed jobs and favors among their fellow Mass attenders. Catholic members of Congress were invariably Democrats from safe districts comprised of their co-religionists; their longevity allowed them to rise to leadership positions through the committee system. To be sure, JFK was the only Catholic elected president. But if one looked at the state and local level as well as the other branches of the national government, their influence was enormous. Only 25 percent of Americans are Catholic, for example, but five of the nine judges of the U. S. Supreme Court can be considered members of the Church.

If group solidarity was the force that gave the Church its influence, the Stupak amendment reveals deep division. Its support came overwhelmingly from Republicans–and since so many of them are from the South, the positive vote for the amendment says more about Baptists than it does about Catholics. As Willliam Galston points out, the majority of the 64 Democrats who joined them were Catholic. At the same time, however, supporters also included Blue Dog Democrats from the South such as Tennessee’s Lincoln Davis, a member of the First Baptist Church in Byrdstown. It was, in short, not the Catholic Church that passed the Stupak amendment, but all those who are pro-life for political rather than religious reasons.

Similar ecumenicalism existed on the other side of the aisle. Voting against the Stupak Amendment were such prominent Catholic Democrats as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as backbenchers such as Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. Even more tellingly, Catholic House members with their eyes on Senate seats–Michael Capuano from Massachusetts and Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania–voted against, as if realizing that election to statewide office required showing independence of mind. Hispanic Congressmen from Texas tended to vote with the Republicans, but Hispanics from California tended to vote with the Democrats. (Region, as Galston also points out, still matters–for as the Catholic politician Tip O’Neill once put it, reflecting the realities of parish life, “All politics is local”). It is true that religion matters as well, but less, I believe, than Galston suggests. After all, an amendment written by a man that would only affect women was strongly opposed by female members of Congress no matter what their faith.

In this sense, the Stupak Amendment mirrored the situation facing Catholics in the whole country. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Catholics tended to agree on the main issues of the day: Most of them were liberal in economic terms and conservative on foreign policy. These days, Catholics are all over the map politically, even on issues on which their Church takes strong stands. According to a March 2009 Gallup poll, there are no significant differences between Catholics and other Americans on either abortion or stem cell research: 40 percent of Catholics find abortion morally acceptable and 63 percent have no problem with stem cells, compared to 41 percent and 62 percent of non-Catholics respectively. In its own way, the Stupak Amendment revealed the single most important truth about American Catholics: their unwillingness to blindly follow Church teachings.



*A postion I do not find to be at all paradoxical or contradictory.

I find the framing of the abortion debate solely as a matter of “choice” simplistic and unenlightening insofar as it ignores the primary arguments of those opposed to abortion, but put this thought to those who do utilize that rhetoric: Public funding of abortion effectively strips anti-abortion taxpayers of their power of choice, forcing them, if in symoblism only, to fund that which they abhor.

Legal bans do not significantly reduce abortion rates


Via BBC:

Restricting the availability of legal abortion does not appear to reduce the number of women trying to end unwanted pregnancies, a major report suggests. The Guttmacher Institute’s survey found abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is legal and regions where it is highly restricted.

It did note that improved access to contraception had cut the overall abortion rate over the last decade. But unsafe abortions, primarily illegal, have remained almost static.

The survey of 197 countries carried out by the Guttmacher Institute – a pro-choice reproductive think tank – found there were 41.6m abortions in 2003, compared with 45.5 in 1995 – a drop which occurred despite population increases. Nineteen countries had liberalised their abortion laws over the ten years studied, compared with tighter restrictions in just three.

Every year, an estimated 70,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortion – leaving nearly a quarter of a million children without a mother – and 5m develop complications.

In the developed world, legal restrictions did not stop abortion but just meant it was “exported”, with Irish women for instance simply travelling to Europe, according to Guttmacher’s director, Dr Sharon Camp. In the developing world, it meant lives were put at risk.

“Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access,” she said. “The gains we’ve seen are modest in relation to what we can achieve. Investing in family planning is essential – far too many women lack access to contraception, putting them at risk.”

Does Guttmacher conduct this study every year? I reported on a  study that came to similar results a while back. Anyone know if their results have been repeated by…well, by any research facility not funded by abortion legalization lobbyists?