Anti-abortion legislators assert that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, but the evidence isn't there.

In the Abortion Debate, Skewing the Science on Fetal Pain

The House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday that would make it a crime to perform or attempt an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill, titled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is based on the claim that at 20 weeks, or about 5 months into a pregnancy, a fetus becomes capable of experiencing pain.

Anti-abortion legislators assert that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, but the evidence isn’t there. Visual: Rick Lowe/Getty

While the bill states that “there is substantial medical evidence” to support this assertion, experts don’t agree.

A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 states that the experience of pain is unlikely before the third trimester, which begins at around 29 weeks. In 2015, the president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that “no research since [the review’s] publication has contradicted its findings.”

Though Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a professor of pediatrics now at Stanford University, told The New York Times in 2013 that he believed fetal pain could be likely earlier in development, he and two other scientists said they didn’t think their work or other research supported fetal-pain laws.

This is the third time the House has passed a 20-week abortion ban since 2013. President Trump has said he will sign the bill if it passes, but it is not expected to make it through the Senate.

Also in the news:

• On Sunday, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on a concert in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more. The attack has reignited America’s debate over gun control, but the diverse situations involved in gun violence necessitate a much more complex discussion. (FiveThirtyEight)

• A study published this week in the journal Science found traces of chemicals from neonicotinoids — a class of pesticides linked to the decline of honeybees — in 75 percent of honey samples from around the world. (BBC)

• When researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia announced earlier this year that they had successfully tested a womb-like device in the development of fetal lambs, narratives proliferated about a possible dystopian future where human pregnancy takes place entirely outside of the body. Physiological and technological limitations suggest that future won’t be here anytime soon, if at all. (Undark)

• Weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, half the island is still without clean drinking water and at least 90 percent of people are without electricity. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had been publishing these statistics on its website, but removed them Thursday without explanation. (Washington Post)

• At a meeting of the National Space Council on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence announced the goal of returning U.S. astronauts to the moon. He described this as “steppingstone” to getting humans on Mars. (The Verge)

• And finally: The EPA will propose to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan, according to a document seen by Reuters. The document said the agency is considering “developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units,” but did not give further information. (Reuters)