Monday, May 27, 2013

The fetal brain and fetal pain

Testifying before a U.S. House committee on May 23, Dr. Maureen L. Condic presented the scientific evidence concerning the development of the human brain and nervous system and the ability of unborn children to experience pain. Dr. Condic is a professor of neurobiology and anatomy and director of human embryology instruction at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Some excerpts from her written testimony:
Scientific data regarding fetal brain development and pain perception

The earliest "rudiment" of the human nervous system forms by 28 days (four weeks) after sperm-egg fusion. At this stage, the primitive brain is already "patterned"; i.e. cells in different regions are specified to produce structures appropriate to their location in the nervous system as a whole. ... In the region of the brain responsible for thinking, memory and other "higher" functions (the neocortex), the earliest neurons are generated during the fourth week after sperm-egg fusion. ...

There is strong scientific evidence that communication between neurons of the brain is established in the seventh week. Synapses, which are the molecular structures required for brain cells to communicate with each other, are detected in the cortex at this time. In animals, synapses are functional immediately and this is likely also true of humans. Thus, the earliest function of the neocortex as a network appears to commence in the seventh week.

The neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex, is in place by 8 weeks of development. This is the earliest point at which the fetus experiences pain in any capacity. And a fetus responds just as humans at later stages of development respond; by withdrawing from the painful stimulus. ...

The earliest connections between neurons in the subcortico-frontal pathways (regions of the brain involved in motor control and a wide range of psychological phenomena, including pain perception) are detected by 37 days post sperm-egg fusion and are well established by 8-10 weeks. This indicates that the brain is "wiring" itself in the first trimester, well before reaching the fetal stage of life. ...

Connections between the spinal cord and the thalamus, the region of the brain that is largely responsible for pain perception in both the fetus and the adult, begin to form around 12 weeks and are completed by 18 weeks.

The long-range connections within the cortex that some believe to be required for consciousness do not arise until much later, around 22-24 weeks. And these connections continue to develop for an exceptionally long time. Indeed, recent studies indicate that the anatomy of the human brain, and therefore the pattern of brain activity underlying all higher functions (reason, memory, emotion, language, etc.), is not fully mature until approximately 25 years after birth.

What brain structures are necessary for a fetus to feel pain?

To experience pain, a noxious stimulus must be detected. The neural structures necessary to detect noxious stimuli are in place by 8-10 weeks of human development.

There is universal agreement that pain is detected by the fetus in the first trimester. The debate concerns how pain is experienced; i.e., whether a fetus has the same pain experience a newborn or an adult would have. While every individual's experience of pain is personal, a number of scientific observations address what brain structures are necessary for a mental or psychological experience of pain.

First, it is clear that children born without higher brain structures ('decorticate' patients) are capable of experiencing pain and also other conscious behaviors ... This indicates that the long-range connections that develop in the cortex only after 22 weeks (and are absent in these patients) are not obligatory for a psychological perception of pain. Similarly, experimental animals that have had the cortex removed also show a vigorous response to painful stimuli, again indicating that late-developing cortical pathways are not required for pain perception and response. The observations of human decorticate patients and experimentally decorticated animals noted above are consistent with what is known about the representation of consciousness and emotion in the brain. ...

Finally, direct experimental evidence from adult humans contradicts the assertion of ACOG, JAMA and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that mature pain perception requires cortical circuitry. Ablation or stimulation of the cortex in humans does not affect pain perception, whereas ablation of lower centers, including the thalamus, does. These neurological findings indicate that "mature" pain perception is largely localized to the thalamus. The spino-thalamic circuits required for pain perception are established between 12-18 weeks post sperm-egg fusion.

What we observe about fetal pain

[W]hat we directly observe about fetal pain is very clear and unambiguous. Fetuses at 20 weeks post sperm-egg fusion have an increase in stress hormones in response to painful experiences that can be eliminated by appropriate anesthesia. Multiple studies clearly indicate "the human fetus from 18–20 weeks elaborates pituitary-adrenal, sympathoadrenal, and circulatory stress responses to physical insults." All of these responses reflect a mature, body-wide response to pain.

Fetuses delivered prematurely, as early as 23 weeks, show clear pain-related behaviors. We know less about infants delivered prior to 23 weeks only because so few are available for study. Strikingly, the earlier infants are delivered, the stronger their response to pain. These and many other direct observations of fetal behavior and physiology have resulted in a clear consensus among professional anesthesiologists (highly specialized physicians who are experts in pain management) that the use of medications to relieve pain is warranted in cases of fetal surgery. Many of the advocates of fetal anesthesia make no claims regarding the qualitative nature of fetal pain, but based on both the scientific literature and on their own observations, they clearly conclude that pain exists for these fetuses and that as physicians they are obligated to address fetal pain medically ...

Our own experience; Why fetal pain matters

Imposing pain on any pain-capable living creature is cruelty. And ignoring the pain experienced by another human individual for any reason is barbaric. We don't need to know if a human fetus is self-reflective or even self-aware to afford it the same consideration we currently afford other pain-capable species. We simply have to decide whether we will choose to ignore the pain of the fetus or not.

From the perspective of neuroscience, it is unclear precisely what "psychological" aspects of a mature pain experience are in place at precisely what point in either human prenatal or postnatal development. It is impossible for me to know with certainty whether another adult, a teenager or a fetus experiences pain in precisely the same manner I do. Yet it is entirely uncontested that a fetus experiences pain in some capacity, from as early as 8 weeks of development. Moreover, most modern neuroscientists have concluded that the thalamic circuitry developed by 18 weeks post sperm-egg fusion is primarily responsible for human experience of pain at all stages of life.

Given that fetuses are members of the human species—human beings like us—they deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding their experience of pain and protection from cruelty under the law.

In light of the scientific facts, the observations of medical professionals, our own experience of pain, and our indirect experience of others' pain, we must conclude that there is indeed a "compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain." And this unambiguously requires a 20 week fetus to be protected from pain, as proposed under H.R. 1797 [the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act].
Members of Congress should be contacted and urged to support the federal Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Women suffer in multiple ways from abortion, reveals new analysis of research

The following news release was issued today, May 22, 2013.

GENEVA, Switzerland — Legalized abortion is widely touted as beneficial to women, but a wealth of medical and psychological evidence suggests otherwise, according to a new analysis of decades of research. The analysis was released today at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO) and National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund (NRLC), an NGO based in Washington, D.C. Jeanne E. Head, R.N., Patrick Buckley and Scott Fischbach, who are in Geneva introducing the analysis, are calling for a renewed emphasis on providing women with improved maternal health care.

"Women face numerous risks with abortion, legal or illegal, and those risks are substantially greater in the developing world," said Jeanne Head, R.N., National Right to Life vice-president for international affairs and U.N. representative. "Yet some in the international community have focused their resources primarily on legalizing abortion at the expense of women’s lives and health."

"The evidence is overwhelming: Abortion is dangerous for women," said MCCL GO Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "Abortion is by its very nature a violent and damaging procedure."

"Rather than legalize or promote abortion, governments should protect the equal dignity and basic rights of all human beings, including women and their unborn children," said Patrick Buckley, Geneva main representative for the U.K. Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

The analysis, "How Abortion Hurts Women," provides an overview of extensive research from multiple countries into the risks of abortion. Documented complications include hemorrhage, infection, cervical damage, uterine perforation, pelvic disease and retained fetal or placental tissue. Large record-based studies from Finland, Denmark and the United States found that maternal mortality rates were significantly higher after abortion compared to childbirth.

Long-term risks of abortion, including subsequent preterm birth, infertility, cancer, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and placenta previa, can substantially impede future reproductive success. In addition, abortion is associated with increased risk of negative psycho-social consequences. For example, a 2011 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use and suicidal behaviors have been found to increase following abortion, along with damage to key relationships.

In the developing world, these dangers increase where basic maternal health care is unavailable. Ms. Head explains: "The incidence of maternal mortality is mainly determined by the quality of maternal health care. Legalization does not improve outcomes, but only increases the number of women subjected to the risks of abortion."

MCCL GO and National Right to Life called upon the WHA to focus its resources on the improvement of women's health care in the developing world.

"We call upon the WHA to acknowledge that abortion needlessly puts women at serious risk, both physically and psychologically," Mr. Fischbach added. "We urge the World Health Assembly to adopt measures that protect women from abortion and improve women's health care."

The analysis is available in English, French and Spanish at the MCCL GO website,

Thursday, May 16, 2013

New breakthrough in human cloning should recall ethical problems

Yesterday the journal Cell published research from a group of scientists (most of them from Oregon Health and Science University) indicating that they successfully derived stem cells from cloned human embryos. This breakthrough—after years of technical difficulties that stalled cloning efforts—should refresh the many ethical concerns regarding the enterprise of human cloning.

The Oregon researchers used the cloning process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), in which the nucleus from a somatic cell (a regular body cell) is transferred into an enucleated egg, which is then stimulated. The result (when successful) is a developing human embryo that is genetically (virtually) identical to the donor of the somatic cell. The researchers were able to grow these cloned embryos to the blastocyst stage, at which point they were killed by the derivation of stem cells. Such cells are sought for the purpose of biomedical research.

The biggest concern here is the destruction of human life. Cloned embryos are living human organisms at the embryonic stage of development. They are members of the species Homo sapiens, like each of us, attempting to traverse a period of life through which each of us once passed. The Oregon scientists created these young human beings in order to then kill them by harvesting their useful parts. They treated them as a natural resource, mere raw material, to use instrumentally for the theoretical future benefit of others. This practice is utterly incompatible with a commitment to the equal and intrinsic value of every member of the human family, at all developmental stages and in all conditions, a value that we share simply by virtue of our common humanity.

Human cloning also raises other ethical concerns, including the commodification of human life; the dangers to the health (and possible exploitation) of women, from whom eggs must be harvested; the tenuous barrier between "therapeutic cloning" (SCNT for the purpose of killing cloned embryos to derive stem cells) and "reproductive cloning" (SCNT for the purpose of implanting cloned embryos in a woman's uterus and allowing them to develop toward maturity), which could result in the birth of a cloned baby; and the possible development of other Brave New World technologies, such as genetic engineering.

Cloning can also be rejected on practical grounds. Indeed, Ian Wilmut, who famously used SCNT to clone Dolly the sheep, abandoned human cloning research for precisely this reason. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) seem to offer the same potential benefits as stem cells from cloned embryos (they are pluripotent and patient-matched), and they are easier and less expensive to produce. Moreover, every proven stem cell treatment to date has used ethically-uncontroversial adult stem cells. In short, the therapeutic benefits sought from human cloning can be achieved without it.

Dr. David Prentice notes that 60,000 people worldwide receive adult stem cell transplants each year. Dozens of diseases and conditions are treated. "Given that science has passed cloning by for stem cell production," Prentice writes, "this announcement [by the Oregon scientists] seems simply a justification for making clones, and makes reproductive cloning and birth of human clones more likely."

The lead Oregon researcher said that "the ethics of human cloning ... is not our focus." But it should be.

MN Senate approves pro-life health care amendment

The following news release was issued today, May 16.

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate last night approved a pro-life amendment, offered by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, to the Market Rules bill (H.F. 779).

The Senate approved on a voice vote the insertion of a reference to the chapter of law that created MNsure, the state's new health insurance exchange required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare), to Statute 145.414. The statute prohibits requiring insurance companies to offer coverage for elective abortions in Minnesota. Although this statute has been in place for several years, it is important that it now includes a reference to MNsure to clarify that the new state program does not require insurance companies to offer coverage of abortion.

The House previously adopted the same provision when it adopted the Fritz Amendment to the House version of the bill by a vote of 71-63 on Apr. 22.

"Including this reference in statute is critical to establish once again that insurance companies operating in Minnesota do not have to pay for abortions," said MCCL Legislative Director Andrea Rau. "We applaud Rep. Patti Fritz and Sen. Stumpf, as well as the Senate and House, in protecting women and their unborn babies by adopting this provision."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lessons of Gosnell: 'The real trial has only just begun'

Philadelphia abortion provider Kermit Gosnell was convicted yesterday on three counts of first-degree murder (of newborn babies), one count of involuntary manslaughter (of a pregnant woman), 21 counts of illegal abortion (of unborn babies over 24 weeks) and more than 200 other crimes. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. Eight other members of Gosnell's staff pleaded guilty to various charges, four of them to murder.

According to the grand jury investigation and several weeks of court testimony, Gosnell routinely delivered living newborn babies and then killed them by jabbing surgical scissors into the back of their necks and severing their spinal cords. (The grand jury said Gosnell killed hundreds of infants this way, but he destroyed most of the records, so only three first-degree murders were proved in court.) The conditions of his clinic were disgusting and unsanitary; women were overdosed with drugs and treated by unlicensed staff, and at least two women died; aborted babies' bodies were stored in the refrigerator next to employee lunches, and severed baby body parts were collected in jars.

Gosnell's "house of horrors" was allowed to operate for many years because state officials turned a blind eye and chose not to inspect abortion facilities for political reasons (according to the grand jury report). Here in Minnesota, state officials do not license or inspect abortion centers at all, and MCCL-backed legislation to license abortion facilities in the same way as other outpatient surgical centers was vetoed in 2012 by Gov. Mark Dayton. This status quo has never been more indefensible. In the wake of Gosnell (as well as problems uncovered in numerous other abortion facilities around the country, including Texas-based Whole Woman's Health, which recently came to Minnesota), will pro-choice advocates like Dayton accept reasonable health and safety standards in abortion clinics? How could they not?

Abortion defenders say the lesson to be learned is that pro-life restrictions on abortion drive women to "back-alley butchers" like Kermit Gosnell. This argument is difficult to take seriously in an era of abortion on demand. And no one could have been driven to Gosnell had proper oversight shut him down or forced him to abide by the law—oversight that was obstructed by pro-choice politicians. (Regardless, the fact that submitting to the killing of an innocent human being may be hazardous to one's health provides no moral justification for making such killing easier.)

The Gosnell case also shines a light on the dark reality of late-term abortion in the United States, and reveals the need to ensure protection for infants and enforce the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. And it points to the graphic nature of killing babies, before birth or after, and the logically tenuous boundary between abortion and infanticide. As Princeton professor Robert P. George explains:
Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America. The Gosnell episode highlights the irrationality of the regime of law put into place by the Supreme Court in 1973 and fiercely protected by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the politicians they and other "pro-choice" advocacy groups help send to Washington and the state capitols. Something as morally arbitrary as a human being's location—his or her being in or out of the womb—cannot determine whether killing him or her is an unconscionable act of premeditated homicide or the exercise of a fundamental liberty. Yet something like that is the prevailing state of American law under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Its incoherence and indefensibility have been laid bare by the prosecution of Dr. Gosnell. Whatever now happens to him, it will no longer be possible to pretend that abortion and infanticide are radically different acts or practices. If we are to condemn snipping the neck of a child delivered at, say, twenty-four or twenty-six weeks to kill him or her, how can we defend dismembering or poisoning a child in the womb at twenty-six, thirty, or even thirty-four weeks? And even more fundamentally, if we are bearers of inviolable dignity and a basic right to life in virtue of our humanity, and not in virtue of accidental qualities such as age, or size, or stage of development or condition of dependency—if, in other words, we believe in the fundamental equality of human beings—how can a right to abortion (where "abortion" means performing an act whose purpose is to cause fetal death) be defended at all?
The real trial has only just begun.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Be their voice

The helpless live in silence
Relying on your choice
So stand with them in courage
And bravely be their voice.

Design by Josiah Jost; poem by Lisa Jost. Available at

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The gender equality argument for legalized abortion

The following originally ran in the January-February 2013 issue of MCCL News and was published in March at and NRL News Today.

Many defenders of legalized abortion argue that it is required by gender equality. The burdens of pregnancy and childbirth fall upon women but never upon men. So only with access to abortion can women be truly equal and able to determine the course of their lives.

President Barack Obama has said, in the context of supporting abortion, "[W]e must ... ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams." U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others contend that the alleged constitutional right to abortion should be grounded in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ("no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws") rather than in the Due Process Clause (as the Court in Roe v. Wade asserted). Equality under the law requires abortion access.

This argument may seem persuasive on the surface, but it does not withstand the scrutiny of reason. First, unequal burdens are not necessarily unjust or contrary to human equality. The burdens of caring for five-year-old children, for example, weigh heavily on the parents of five-year-old children and not at all on almost everyone else. Laws against killing or abandoning five-year-olds do not affect everyone in the same way—we might even claim that they deprive parents of "the same rights, freedoms and opportunities" as non-parents. But clearly they are not wrong.

Likewise, the burdens of pregnancy fall on women and not men, and a law against killing unborn children by abortion would impact women in a way it does not impact men. But such a law would not be unjust for that reason. Laws may affect people differently given different circumstances, but that does not mean that they treat people differently. Everyone should be equally prohibited from killing innocent human beings. This prohibition is not gender-specific. No one has a right to take innocent life.

Second, men and women are equally morally responsible for their offspring, even though this obligation can take different forms (women, by virtue of human reproductive biology, uniquely gestate children). Men can more easily run from their parental duties than women, but the solution to this dereliction is not to authorize the killing of human beings in the womb. Rather, men must take responsibility and be held responsible by law if necessary.

Third, the argument from gender equality falsely presupposes that pregnancy is a disability and that pregnant women need a "corrective" surgical procedure (abortion) to become equal to men. This denigrates women and their reproductive powers while elevating the male body to the standard of human sexuality. "True equality requires society to accept women with their fertility intact," writes Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Fourth, women do not need abortion to achieve social equality and career success. This has never been more obvious, and suggesting otherwise has never seemed more offensive. "Why is it that we assume women are incapable of dealing with the adversity of an unwanted pregnancy by any other means than that of destroying life? Is this a flattering view of women?" asked Janet E. Smith in her 1978 essay "Abortion as a Feminist Concern."

"In this day of unparalleled opportunities for women, when women pride themselves on their ability to fend for themselves, when many agencies are designed for helping women in distress—why do we assume that women who become pregnant when inconvenient for them are not resourceful enough to find a way to nourish the life they have conceived?"

Placing a child for adoption is an ethical and life-affirming way to relinquish responsibility, and pregnancy care centers and maternity homes help women in need face the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood. But more can and should be done to accommodate the essential role mothers play in our society.

Abortion, because it takes the life of an innocent human person, is a deep violation of equal human dignity, not an affirmation of it. Legalized abortion excludes an entire class of human beings from the protection of the law by allowing them to be dismembered and killed at the discretion of others. And the practice of sex-selection abortion (the legality of which is supported by Obama) targets unborn baby girls specifically because of their gender.

There is no equality in abortion.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More than one-third of all abortions paid for by taxpayers

The following news release was issued today, May 7.

ST. PAUL — Taxpayer-funded abortions have reached their highest point ever as a percentage of annual abortions in the state. After 16 years of taxpayer-funded abortions, Minnesotans have funded more than 62,000 abortions at a cost of $19.9 million, according to a just-released report from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Nearly all of these abortions have been elective.

Since its successful 1995 challenge to Minnesota's law which prohibited funding of most abortions, the state's abortion industry has steadily marketed taxpayer-funded abortions to low-income women. Taxpayers now pay for 33.4 percent of all abortions performed in the state—the highest percentage ever.

"The state's abortion facilities get a steady stream of taxpayer revenue by targeting economically vulnerable women," said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). "It is time to end this exploitation of poor women and their unborn children."

Minnesota taxpayers have been required to fund elective abortions since the Minnesota Supreme Court's 1995 Doe v. Gomez ruling. In that decision, the Court created a state "right" to abortion on demand and obligated all taxpayers to fund abortions, including purely elective procedures.

Since the Doe v. Gomez ruling, taxpayers have paid $19,914,885 for a total of 62,252 abortion procedure claims. Taxpayers' portion of the 2011 numbers (the latest available) was $1,215,500 for 3,693 abortions. Prior to the court decision, taxpayers were charged about $7,000 per year for about 23 abortions in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

Twelve facilities performed taxpayer funded abortions in 2011; eight of them account for more than 99 percent of these abortions. One facility—Regions Hospital & Clinic—has since stopped doing abortions, and two more—Midwest Health Center for Women and Meadowbrook Women's Clinic, both in downtown Minneapolis—were sold to Texas-based Whole Woman's Health, which combined them into one facility last year.

"Polls continue to show that most Minnesotans and most Americans are opposed to taxpayer funded abortions, yet they continue to be forced to pay for them," Fischbach said.

MCCL helped to pass a ban on taxpayer funded abortion during the 2011 legislative session; it was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The measure would have ended the forced funding by taxpayers of this mistreatment of poor women and the killing of unborn children.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Whole Woman's Health seeks counselor to 'close the deal' on abortion sales

The following news release was issued on May 2.

MINNEAPOLIS—Texas-based Whole Woman's Health chain of abortion facilities has a new online job listing seeking an "Empower Line Phone Counselor" for its Minneapolis abortion facility. One of the general requirements for the new abortion worker is to "Be able to 'close the deal' or book the appointment" for an abortion. The listing also states that the new hire must "understand that we do not create victims. We trust and listen to women."

"Whole Woman's Health takes a crass approach to the business of abortion, which victimizes women and their unborn babies," said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). "Its goal to 'close the deal' reduces the abortion of unborn human beings to a profit-driven sales transaction."

Minimal experience is needed for this "counselor" who will urge women to make a life-altering decision: a high school diploma or GED and "one year's experience in a health care facility or working in a customer service/phone service position." In other words, a 19-year-old who has taken orders in an auto repair shop is qualified to counsel women to have their unborn children forcibly dismembered and removed from their womb.

"We are shocked at this callous attitude toward the women of our state who are facing a life-or-death decision when calling Whole Woman's Health," Fischbach said. "We hope that women seek counsel and help from one of the 90 compassionate, caring pregnancy care centers in our state."

The Whole Woman's Health Minneapolis abortion facility is part of a nationwide chain of abortion facilities. It has a long, dirty history of fines and violations. It was fined $83,000 in Texas, along with its medical waste vendor, for illegally dumping the remains of aborted babies in open trash receptacles. Eight of its abortionists were recently brought before the Texas Medical Board for numerous allegations, including the illegal dumping of private patient medical records, HIPAA violations, and violations of Texas informed consent laws. Several Whole Woman's Health abortionists have previous disciplinary histories, including one who was responsible for a patient's death.