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Harvard research shows fetal pain bills are scientifically and constitutionally unsound

This past legislative session, Florida was among a handful of states that sought to limit access to abortions when the age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more. The reasoning behind such restrictions is based on scientifically disputed claims that a fetus can feel pain starting at 20 weeks. While Florida did not eventually pass House Bill 321, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and Indiana have all passed bills that make such restrictions. #

According to Mother Jones, a pair of Harvard researchers studied the bills and have found that they are neither “neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound”: #

In a recent paper in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School and Sadath Sayeed of Harvard Medical School note that there is no conclusive evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that point in gestation, nor are they considered viable. #

While there’s an established body of evidence that fetuses start developing the biological pathways related to pain sensation at this stage, there is not enough data to suggest that they can actually experience it. The bulk of the scientific literature on the subject indicates that the brain connections required to feel pain are not in place until at least 24 weeks. The lawmakers and anti-abortion groups arguing for the 20-week bans are “espousing a view that aligns with the political hope” rather than medical evidence, says Sayeed, who is both a neonatologist and a lawyer. #

It has been argued that much like “Personhood” amendments, the disputed constitutionality of fetal pain bills are part of a strategy to bring a legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. More specifically, groups are looking to have Roe v. Wade overturned. #

Minnesota’s governor vetoed a “fetal-pain” bill yesterday that would have placed restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks with an exception for medical emergencies. #

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