Wendy Davis Was Wrong: Women Don’t “Need” Late-Term Abortions

State   Jacqueline Harvey, Ph.D.   Jul 8, 2013   |   10:01AM    Austin, TX

Before the Texas Legislature currently is H.B. 2: a conglomeration of several abortion-related bills with a myriad of provisions which was resurrected in a second special session following an eleventh-hour attempt to filibuster this effort by Senator Wendy Davis. Actions on this bill have been a whirlwind, with testimony citing supposed scientific evidence at hearing faster than RRA can vet these studies prior to the next hearing.

While RRA continues to research the many aspects of this legislation (and also, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a federal bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks as well),  the following is an excerpt from testimony by RRA Contributor Dr. Jacqueline C. Harvey. Dr. Harvey testifies on her own behalf, as a Texan and bio-ethicist, but offers the full citations of her testimony here for any seeking additional information about these issues.

The testimony examines the science behind two aspects of the Texas bill: 1.) misrepresentations about studies on fetal pain and 2.) the effect of intimate partner violence (IPV) on women seeking abortions:

1. Studies Regarding Fetal Pain

The studies about fetal pain cited as evidence that the unborn do not feel pain late in the second trimester (>20 weeks) rely on a convenient psychological vs. physiological concept of pain. Essentially, the argument is not that the unborn child lacks the physiology to feel pain, but that they lack the ability to perceive pain as pain. The most oft-cited article [i] that is used to refute assertions that unborn children are capable of pain states, “Pain is an emotional and psychological experience that requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus.” Essentially, they argue that it is acceptable to commit painful acts on a human being, as long as that human is incapable of recognizing the pain (which makes a case for all sorts of atrocities against persons with brain injuries). Even brain dead individuals are anesthetized prior to organ harvesting and unborn patients anesthetized prior to surgery, although they argue this is to immobilize the patient and facilitate surgery in both cases. Nonetheless, premature infants born prior to viability that are given only palliative care, this care includes morphine and pain control [ii], since physicians [iii] report that neurologists generally assume even the most premature infants can feel pain and therefore, err on the side of mercy. Opponents to protecting unborn children from pain assert that because a child younger than 29 to 30 may lack the ability to recognize painful acts (those acts that would be considered painful by those who can communicate that discomfort), this means that they are incapable of pain even if they physiologically feel it, which studies suggest they do [iv].

2. Studies Regarding Late-Term Abortion due to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

During Sen. Wendy Davis’ attempt at a 13-hour filibuster, she cited a study to demonstrate a need for elective abortions after 20 weeks (those that would be banned under the bill). While the transcripts of the session are not yet available to find the author and the Senator’s exact comments, she stated that women seeking late second-trimester abortions are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) suggesting that IPV delays abortions, pushing women outside of the 20-week window. After scouring the body of literature for hours to find studies on the reasons why women have abortions in the second trimester, there is no evidence that violence is a common the reason for this delay. There is minimal evidence [v] that abusive partners do attempt to prevent abortions and that women are hesitant [vi] to disclose completed abortions to unsupportive partners, but there is no evidence to support Sen. Davis’ claim that a significant number of women are unable to obtain abortions prior to 20 weeks due to IPV. In fact, Guttmacher Institute researchers [vii] specifically included IPV in their survey of 9,493 women seeking second-trimester abortions in 2008, and concluded, “women exposed to IPV were no more or less likely to be obtaining a second-trimester abortion than those who were not exposed” (p. 10). This is in spite of the fact that studies [viii] have demonstrated that women who are victims of IPV are considerably more likely to seek abortions at any gestational age. One study [ix]found that male abusers admit to coercing their female victims into abortions. Studies [x] on the reasons why women obtain second-trimester abortions do not find violence to be a contributing factor whatsoever, but rather delays in determining pregnancy and deciding to have an abortion. And although money is often cited as a barrier, women with health insurance were twice as likely to obtain a second trimester abortion as those paying out of pocket. Most second-trimester abortions in the U.S. are financed by insurance, and similar reasons for delay [xi] were found in the U.K., where second-trimester abortions are covered under government healthcare. In all, there is no evidence of hardships that prevent women from having an abortion earlier, when the procedure poses fewer risks to her.

Scholars at RRA are in the process of compiling full reports on many aspects of this bill including fetal pain, late-term abortion bans, medical abortions and health and safety regulations. A full examination of the literature on fetal pain will be featured on RRA in coming weeks. Be sure to like RRA on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @RRAudit for ongoing coverage.

[i] Lee SJ, Ralston H, Drey EA, Partridge J, Rosen MA. Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence. JAMA. 2005; 294(8):947-954. doi:10.1001/jama.294.8.947.

[ii] Royal Children’s Hospital. Neonatal Handbook 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.netsvic.org.au/nets/handbook/index.cfm?doc_id=910

[iii] Goldberg, M. The Uncertain Science of Fetal Pain The Daily Beast, June 19, 2013 Retrieved from: http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/06/19/the-uncertain-science-of-fetal-pain.html

[iv] Doctors on Fetal Pain 2. Documentation 2013 Retrieved from: http://www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/fetal-pain-the-evidence/2-documentation/#.UdMQ6NjNk5l

[v] Moore, A. M., Frohwirth, L., & Miller, E.  Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States. 2010 Social Science & Medicine, 70(11), 1737-1744.

[vi] Woo J, Fine P, Goetzl L. Abortion disclosure and the association with domestic violence. Obstetrics & Gynecology 2005; 105: 1329-1334.

[vii] Jones, R. K., & Finer, L. B. Who has second-trimester abortions in the United States? 2012 Contraception, 85(6), 544-551.

[viii] Saftlas, A. F., Wallis, A. B., Shochet, T., Harland, K. K., Dickey, P., & Peek-Asa, C. Prevalence of intimate partner violence among an abortion clinic population. Journal Information, 2010 100(8).

[ix] Silverman, J. G., Decker, M. R., McCauley, H. L., Gupta, J., Miller, E., Raj, A., & Goldberg, A. B. Male perpetration of intimate partner violence and involvement in abortions and abortion-related conflict. American journal of public health, 2010. 100(8), 1415-1417.

[x] Finer, L. B., Frohwirth, L. F., Dauphinee, L. A., Singh, S., & Moore, A. M. Timing of steps and reasons for delays in obtaining abortions in the United States. Contraception, 2006. 74(4), 334-344.



[xi] Ingham, R., Lee, E., Clements, S., & Stone, N. Second-trimester abortions in England and Wales. University of Southampton. 2007. Retrieved from: https://www.bpas.org/js/filemanager/files/second_trimester_abortions__ingham.pdf

LifeNews Note: Jacqueline Harvey is a scholar of public policy and bioethics from Texas who works as a consultant in social services, primarily in statistics as a non-profit program evaluator and policy analyst. Dr. Harvey’s background includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from the University of North Texas, with considerable coursework in public health and healthcare administration from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Reprinted with permission from Reproductive Research Audit.