Dismembering reality

Commentary from American Life League president Judie Brown

Just a few days ago the most amazing announcement came from the world of medical research. Perhaps you heard about the startling discovery that 28-week-old preborn babies can be observed crying in response to a noise stimulus. It seems that when researchers played a 90-decibel noise, similar to the sound of a "tummy rumbling," the ultrasound revealed the effect of that noise. Researchers described it as "an infant crying" and noted that "even the bottom lip quivers."

Please note that this study appeared in the prestigious Archives of Disease in Childhood – Fetal and Neonatal Edition. But it failed to appear in any major news media; it failed to be discussed on the major TV networks. There was no resounding clamor, only a faint whisper.

Compare this with a similar study dealing with fetal pain and preborn babies published by five medical investigators associated with the University of California in San Francisco. Among the five, it is important to note, are two who have direct ties to the abortion industry. Their study, published in the equally prominent Journal of the American Medical Association, suggested that even at 28 weeks gestational age, the preborn child might not perceive or feel pain.

This study was widely discussed in the news media. The overwhelming view of those who reported on this study was that there is no consensus about whether preborn children feel pain, and in fact the mere idea of it is some sort of right wing tactic that should be dismissed.

Experts in fetology, human embryology and neonatology would disagree. But is that really the point? After all, we know from the abortion industry that practitioners ply their trade by dismembering little babies and vacuuming their bodies away. Does it really matter whether the victim felt the pain prior to his untimely death?

So what sort of half-baked theory brought all this attention on fetal pain to the forefront in the first place? Believe it or not, it was another in a long line of purportedly "pro-life" legislative proposals designed to get Americans thinking about exactly what goes on when an abortion is being done. As well-meaning as this most recent proposal is, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act plays right into the hands of the very researchers who tell us that if the fetus does not perceive the pain, there is no pain.

The bill addresses only those preborn babies who are 20 weeks gestational age or older, thus ignoring the vast majority of those preborn children who die from the act of abortion. Why did the authors of the bill decide on 20 weeks? There is no logical explanation for that in view of the overwhelming evidence that preborn babies as young as eight weeks can feel pain.

Many years ago John C. Willke, M.D., one of the world's leading pro-life doctors and educators, taught that it was common knowledge among scientists that the preborn child's neuroanatomic structures were in place at eight weeks gestational age. In plain English that means that the preborn baby's nervous system can send a pain impulse to the brain, which in turn signals the motor nerves, thus causing the baby to recoil from pain.

This piece of clinical evidence, which has been around since 1980, was first published in the British Medical Journal.

That being said, why in the world would a legislative proposal draw a line at 20 weeks if it is intended to serve as a "pro-life" measure? Are pro-lifers dismembering their own factual basis for defending the preborn at the same rate abortionists are dismembering babies?

The Congressional debate over the fetal pain bill distracts the pro-life movement from its true goal. It also provides many politicians who are too eager to compromise with an array of "pro-life" endorsements so they can travel down the yellow brick road to easy re-election victories.

Let's get the basics right out there for all to see. The human embryo is a human being at his creation. Because he grows from one cell to two to three to four and so on, he is clearly alive and animated from the very start. While it is certainly reassuring to know that he can feel pain and respond to it very, very early in his life, this scientific information is not the primary focus of our efforts. Yes, we should talk about it in our ongoing effort to persuade Americans that every act of abortion kills somebody. But such details are not ends unto themselves.

Anytime we can put a face on the primary victim of abortion, the preborn baby, we should. The facts about fetal pain, if they are presented accurately and not politically revised, assist us and the baby. It has always been my contention that the pro-life message is, at the end of the day, indisputable because it is factually correct and morally sane.

Legislative proposals such as the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act undermine that message. The bill is not factually correct and is therefore disturbingly deceptive. If you disagree, that is your right. You are certainly at liberty to agree with Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, who issued a public statement in support of the bill (http://priestsforlife.org/pressreleases/04-03-26unbornvictims.htm), and others who have supported this proposal. The bill states that an expectant mother should be told prior to having her baby killed that because the baby is 20 weeks old, he requires anesthesia. You are free to support the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act if you like.

But take note of what is at stake. Diverting this movement from the worthwhile effort to provide a human face to every single preborn child – regardless of whether he feels pain or not – is a sad, if not devastating error. For 32 years pro-lifers have danced at the fringes of Roe v. Wade. For 32 years pro-lifers have witnessed the death, daily, of well in excess of 3,500 children not yet born. How many more years is it going to take for us to put these children, their humanity and their right to life ahead of politics, press releases and personal glory?

Release issued: 1 Sept 05