The Fetal Pain No One Talks About

Fetuses may be able to feel pain as early as eighteen weeks, claims a story in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. (Also in the weekend's Times: a review of a book that makes the scientific argument that life begins at conception. Fun!) So anyway, the story explores the highly-specialized world of fetal surgery, a world rife with tales of 23-week old fetuses flinching and recoiling at the touch of surgeons' scalpels, and in which it has now become common practice to offer fetuses anesthesia, in part as the result of new research that shows that fetuses as young as 18 weeks would show a massive flood of stress hormones when undergoing fetal procedures sans anesthesia. The story is an interesting reexamination of the long-accepted notion that fetuses feel no pain, and the attendant controversy surrounding the ramifications on a thorny little political debate known as the "abortion issue." And as with all stories that dare to go beyond the black/white of the life begins at conception/birth debate, I found it illuminating. But even if you buy the doctors' assertions, only about 5% of the country's abortions are conducted on fetuses that feel pain.

Meanwhile, the vast preponderance of abortions are conducted in the first half of the first trimester of pregnancy, increasingly by women who forego any sort of anesthesia so as to carry about their abortions at home with the help of some pills. And, guess what, it hurts!


Soooo, recently I found myself researching the pain involved in pill abortions, namely because a friend of mine had told me that most purveyors of the pills don't prescribe the FDA-recommended regimen of 600 mgs of RU-486 followed by an optional few hundred mgs of something called misoprostol a few days later, because they had found a new regimen — of 200 mgs of RU-486 plus 600 mgs misoprostol all at once — that was "more effective." This friend had also found the new regimen to be really really painful. But when I started researching the differences between the two pharmaceutical cocktails, I found a lot of evidence that the new regimen was a lot cheaper, and numerous studies claiming it was just as effective, but nothing about the pain.

Jesus Shit! I thought. There are motherfucking studies about the responses of women on birth control to porn, there are studies on the impact of videogames on navigational skills, there are probably studies on the prenatal effects of playing video games during the third trimester, and there are no studies about abortion and pain? Is it too late to sign up for that whole "woman president" thing?


The First Ache [NY Times]
Little Children [NY Times]

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