In March, the Missouri House of Representatives passed House Bill 1266, aimed at limiting a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion based on the bogus concept of “fetal pain.” Not only is this an example of the typical anti-abortion movement’s dangerous misinformation campaigns, it is also pseudoscience that should not be used to limit access to reproductive health care.
Opponents of safe, legal abortion are using legislation like House Bill 1266 to substitute politicians' opinions for a physician's medical judgment and impose new reporting requirements, civil fines, and criminal penalties on physicians. It is an example of government intrusion into personal decision-making that would ban abortion altogether after 22 weeks of pregnancy. This bill, like similar bills introduced in state legislatures around the country and in Congress, ignores the real science of fetal development: A fetus is not capable of experiencing pain before the third trimester.
This abortion ban is rooted in opposition to legal abortion, not credible medical evidence. The world’s leading medical organizations that establish standards for reproductive health care, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agree that a fetus does not possess the “physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation.”
In fact, according to ACOG, the perception of pain requires more than just the mechanical transmission and reception of signals. ACOG refers to pain as “an emotional and psychological experience that requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus.” This capacity does not develop until the third trimester at the earliest, which is past 22 weeks of pregnancy. ACOG states that “the evidence shows that the neural circuitry necessary to distinguish touch from painful touch does not, in fact, develop until late in the third trimester. The occurrence of intrauterine fetal movement is not an indication that a fetus can feel pain.”
This one-size-fits-all ban leaves women in potentially dangerous positions. It has nothing to do with patient health or safety — it’s simply adding another barrier to safe and legal abortion. As many women and medical providers know, there are many reasons a woman may seek an abortion at 22 weeks, including fatal or serious medical conditions to the woman and/or her fetus that cannot be diagnosed earlier in pregnancy. This bill would take decision-making away from patients and their trusted health care providers and put it in the hands of politicians.
Public health policy should be grounded in the best scientific evidence, not political agendas. Health care must be provided freely, without political interference in the patient-physician relationship. Personal decision making by women and their doctors should not be replaced by political ideology. Choosing whether and when to have an abortion is a decision that belongs to a woman, their doctor, and their family, not politicians.
Current Status of Bill:
ACOG statement on federal version of HB 1266: ACOG Opposes U.S. Senate Effort to Limit Abortion Access
Medscape article by ACOG’s Dr. Mark DeFrancesco: No Evidence to Show Fetal Pain in Second Trimester
ACOG Fact Sheet: Facts Are Important - Fetal Pain
Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri: HB 1266 Fact Sheet