Hey, birth's gotta hurt, too

Lynn Paltrow skewers the "Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act."


Lynn Harris
August 16, 2006 8:51PM (UTC)

I read this one on my recent vacation, where my companions and I utterly failed to shield ourselves from the news. It's Lynn M. Paltrow, president of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, offering (on AlterNet, via the Women's Media Center) a serious smack-down of the antiabortion front's latest -- and perhaps most garish -- effort to stigmatize the procedure: the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act.

According to the language of the bill (PDF) -- which, in some marvelous news for the ladies in the waiting room at the fertility clinic, also defines a woman as a "female human being who is capable of becoming pregnant" -- a fetus can experience "pain" starting at 20 weeks' gestation. The bill would require that women seeking an abortion at or after that time be thus informed. (Note that 1.5 percent of all abortions occur after 20 weeks.) "And -- in a departure from medical ethics and principles of informed consent -- the bill requires the health care provider first to inform the woman of the pain the fetus experiences; as an afterthought it says that doctors 'may' inform the woman of additional medical risks to her as a result of anesthetic administered directly to and solely for the benefit of the fetus," notes Paltrow.

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Most criticisms of the bill are obvious: 1) the medical evidence at hand is sketchy, and 2) (even if it weren't) if these people really cared about "pain," they'd do more to alleviate that of, say, born children.

But Paltrow takes it one Swiftian step further, saying that, in fact, this bill does not go far enough. The law proclaims "a valid Federal Government interest in reducing the number of events in which great pain is inflicted on sentient creatures." And indeed (my observation, not Paltrow's), haven't entire areas of psychoanalysis -- or at least pop-psych legend -- risen up around the inherent trauma of leaving the womb at birth? So what, Paltrow asks, of the "extraordinary pain the fetus suffers when labor is induced and the fetus is subjected to repeated, violent maternal uterine contraction and then forced through the unimaginably narrow vaginal canal? ... Shouldn't the pregnant woman be fully informed of the indescribable pain she could be causing her soon to be, but yet unborn child by bearing it?" (Emphasis added.)

Paltrow's modest proposal: "We need a Full Unborn Child Awareness Act, one that includes all of the ways pregnant women and health care providers and birth may inflict pain on the fetus. Those who oppose the necessary amendments will be supporting what can only be understood as the Unborn Child Partial Pain Awareness Act. In good conscience, how could anyone support that?" Hear, hear.


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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