Last November, Republicans gained control of the Minnesota Legislature for the first time in over 30 years. Thanks to the new majority, they are now considering no less than eight bills to restrict access to abortion.
Yesterday, a house committee considered Bill 649 to ban abortion at 20 weeks due to a fetus’ unproven ability to feel pain. Sound familiar? They are popping up all over the country, but the hearing yesterday shed some light on the logic behind the bills. The bill is a direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade (the Minnesota version even contains the creation of a taxpayer-funded defense fund to protect against the inevitable legal challenge), but what is perhaps so extraordinary is the assertion that physical pain is something a legislature should try to prevent.
The Republicans thought they scored points when they asked one witness, women’s health expert and ob/gyn Carrie Ann Terrell, whether a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Terrell simply responded that it didn’t matter. And why should it? “We suspect vaginal birth is painful to the fetus. Will you pass a law banning vaginal birth?” she asked them. Spinal taps are excruciating, but they also save lives, as do countless other procedures. Should we ban them? As a doctor, pain shouldn't play into medical decisions, period. It's important to make this point.
Luckily, Minnesota managed to barely elect a pro-choice Democratic governor last November, so it's unclear what chances these bills actually have of becoming law. No matter, these hearings are an interesting window into the mind-set of the anti-choice movement. And it's not pretty.