Scientists Send Letter to Minnesota Legislators Discrediting “Fetal Pain” Findings


When the Minnesota state legislature began hearing testimony for a 20 week abortion ban based on the notion that a fetus could allegedly feel pain at that point, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) testified that it was a “scientific consensus” that pain was felt by 20 weeks, if not sooner.

When drawing together their “consensus,” the group forgot all of the scientists who note that scientifically, there’s no proof to their claims.  And they’ve sent a letter to the legislators planning to vote on the measure saying as much.

Via Minnesota Independent:

[I]n a March 30 letter to legislators, a team of experts in the field of gynecology and reproductive science evaluated the legislative findings promoted by MCCL and demonstrated that there is no medical or scientific consensus on fetal pain at any stage of development and that research continues to be contradictory.

“These findings are inconsistent with published science and thus should not be used to inform potential policy change,” wrote the letter’s authors, Prof. Philip Darney of the Department of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California – San Francisco and Dr. Mark Rosen, who is the Director of Obstetrical Anesthesia at UCSF. Both are part of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.

“[S]cientific evidence does not support the elimination of legal abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation based on concerns about the existence of fetal pain,” the letter concluded.

The letter points to two large studies of fetal pain that demonstrate that there is not agreement within the medical community. The first study, conducted in 2005, did an exhaustive review of existing research on fetal pain.

“This review concludes that based on the best available scientific evidence, a human fetus probably does not have the capacity to experience pain until the 29th week of pregnancy at the earliest.”

In 2010, another review undertaken by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (RCOG) in the United Kingdom showed very similar results.

The letter’s authors found significant problems with the bill’s legislative findings and offered research that countered claims that a fetus at 20 weeks has the physical structures necessary to experience pain, that a fetus at 20 weeks reacts to stimuli, and that abortions at 20 weeks cause pain to a fetus.

But Rau and MCCL contend that those studies are biased.

“There have been a small handful of medical literature reviews that indicate that the unborn child may not be capable of feeling pain until later in the pregnancy, but these appear to contain biases,” said Rau. “Most, including the fetal surgeons who do these surgeries, agree with the consensus that the unborn child is capable of feeling pain by at least 20 weeks post conception.”

MCCL is claiming that any scientist who doesn’t agree with their “facts” must be biased.

You know, unlike these doctors, who are totally unbiased in their assessments.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Robin Marty on twitter: @robinmarty

  • kater7

    Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that the science won’t matter…too many times in the past that’s been the case. Why should now be any different?