Two days after the deadliest mass shooting in America, Pennsylvania Representative Keith Rothfus declared “if you want to begin to prevent violence in our country, vote for this bill.”
He wasn’t talking about gun control; he was talking about banning abortion.
The House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, to ban abortions after 20 weeks. During the floor debate, Republicans like Rothfus lobbed bad science and emotional blackmail to shame women into not getting abortions.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists contend that a fetus doesn’t feel pain, or much of anything, until the third trimester. According to a 2005 review in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), what appears to be the fetus recoiling in pain is more of a reflex. Pain requires awareness, which the evidence suggests the fetus does not have until well into the third trimester.
But none of the evidence stopped Republicans like Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler arguing “children at this stage of development have well-developed neurological structures that can feel pain.” Literally untrue.
Or Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham: “As a doctor, it’s my job to stay current with medical research,” he said, research he claims “overwhelmingly shows children 20 weeks or less are capable of showing pain.” As the study in JAMA concludes, the research overwhelmingly points in the opposite direction.
Other Republicans used more emotional methods of persuasion, such as Illinois Rep. Darin LaHood. After salutations, LaHood opened his speech with “at 20 weeks into a pregnancy, babies can hear music, respond to human voices and, most importantly, they can feel pain.” Again, no they can’t feel pain. There is also an important difference between hearing music and experiencing music like a sentient being.
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins supported the bill because he’s “making sure birthdays happen.” Birthdays will happen with or without this bill. Abortion access will not reduce the human population, but reduce the number of unwanted children who are too often born into poverty. And can’t afford birthday celebrations.
Meanwhile, Utah Rep. Mia Love went straight to the point: “Why is abortion not considered murder and killing a pregnant woman double homicide?” Such a statement ignores all the nuances of the scientific evidence of fetal viability and fetal awareness, two fundamental standards for determining personhood. But it sure sounds scary and that was precisely what Love intended.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney argued the bill “protects women” because it has exceptions for rape and incest and the life of the mother. As though dying and being raped or otherwise sexually traumatized are the only concerns women face. As though there are zero other factors in choosing to have a child than how it was conceived.
What about women who are “too overworked and stretched too thin,” to get an abortion in time, asked New York Rep. Louise Slaughter. She accused Republican’s of “playing doctor” with zero regard for actual science.
Nobody put it better than Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore, who opened her speech in a loud voice, demanding “let’s talk about pain here today.” She talked about the “emotional horror and pain” of being forced to carry a doomed pregnancy to term. “We must stop the bans and stop the pain.”
The pain of the mother—something Republicans refuse to consider.