Why fetal pain hurts (the pro-life cause)

We need to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases. … Abortions in the second trimester, especially after 20 weeks, need to be considered differently from those that happen early in pregnancy.

In 2011, Frances Kissling, the founding President of the National Abortion Federation, penned a Washington Post editorial supporting the very abortion regulations that many pro-life groups are celebrating today. Kissling defended such regulations saying:

If the choice movement does not change, control of policy on abortion will remain in the hands of those who want it criminalized. If we don’t suggest sensible balanced legislation and regulation of abortion, we will be left with far more draconian policies – and, eventually, no choices at all.

Did you hear that? Unless abortion-advocates advocate for “common-sense” regulations of their murderous industry, abortion will not survive. Kissling’s argument makes sense, when viewed from an international perspective. European countries are known for their broad access to legal abortion. Few have the vibrant pro-life base America does. Indeed, many European countries have tiny or slumberous pro-life contingents seeking to ban abortion entirely.

Shouldn't we be protecting them from murder?
Shouldn’t we be protecting them from murder?

When a dozen Swedish reporters visited Denver in 2008 to report on the total abortion ban under consideration, they suggested that “America would not have so much opposition to abortion if the procedure were more humane and regulated as it is in Europe.”

You see, abortion-tolerant Europeans view the American abortion business as barbarous. In most European countries, abortions are only ever performed in the first trimester (except in cases of rape, incest, “fetal abnormality,” or threat to the mother’s health). The Swedish journalists were shocked that America allows butchers like Colorado’s Dr. Warren Hern to kill babies just days away from delivery.

But that’s precisely the point. Late-term abortions are visually shocking. They are obviously barbarous. And they are just as deadly as the more subtle abortion in the first trimester. By banning late-term or partial-birth abortions, the pro-life movement simultaneously robs itself of its most grippingly obvious visual argument against abortion and subdues public outrage against the most common kind of abortion – that is, first trimester abortion. Abortion is protected with a veneer of legitimacy since it only kills a fetus in early development, a fetus which cannot feel pain and doesn’t appear to be all that human.

The problem with so-called “fetal pain” legislation is that it obscures the real issue: the personhood of the unborn child from the moment of fertilization. Instead, it teaches that abortion is bad because it’s painful. It then prescribes a remedy by allowing only abortions that are not painful for the baby, as if that is a panacea. Some “pro-life” lawmakers have even gone so far as to propose abortion anesthesia for the baby!

I may not feel pain yet... but I still deserve to be protected.
I may not feel pain yet…but I still deserve to be protected.

These measures do exactly what Kissling wants most: creating a painless, sanitized abortion that will be accepted by the American public. That’s why some pro-abortion authors suggested more regulation of the abortion industry in response to Kermit Gosnell! Only increased regulation can quell the public criticism of those who perceive abortion to be barbaric. Only increased regulation will ensure the abortion industry’s survival.

The proposed fetal pain legislation before Congress also makes exceptions for babies conceived in rape or incest. This exemption is unprincipled even on its own terms: don’t pre-born children conceived in rape feel agony just as painfully as any other? Rebecca Kiessling (not to be confused with Kissling) artfully points out the internal contradictions and regressive nature of such a “pro-life” position. Georgia Right to Life rightly opposed the bill for this very reason. This is a pro-choice bill, with exceptions.

I’m willing to admit that this legislation could save some lives if enacted (though, from experience with similar legislation, others suggest that it will not). Will you, my reader, be willing to admit that fetal pain legislation may actually encourage some mothers to have early-term abortions because they believe it to be humane – because they’ve been taught that their babies won’t suffer or feel pain before 20 weeks?

Instead of spending years and millions of dollars pushing this shortsighted bill through Congress, let’s get back to our mission: abolishing abortion. Perhaps that time and money would be better spent supporting something like Rand Paul’s “Life at Conception” act or a total moratorium on funding to abortion providers (without Hyde exceptions for rape and incest).

If we intend to convince legislators to end abortion, we must hold them to a higher standard. We must not be placated with bills riddled with the bodies of “exceptions”; we must play harder to get. If we intend to educate the public about the humanity of the unborn child, we cannot raise an inconsistent standard that OKs the killing of some unborn children (those conceived in rape or incest, those prior to 20 weeks, those who cannot feel pain, etc.). That will be rejected as a defense of all unborn human life, as it was in Roe v. Wade. It will be welcomed by abortion-advocates like Francis Kissling who know that sanitizing abortion is the key to keeping abortion legal. The public will, however, follow a principled standard, so let’s work together to advance one. Instead of trying to mend abortion, let’s end it.

Editor’s Note: This article is the opinion of the author, not the official position of Live Action on H.R. 1797.

  • stevenertelt

    So pointing out that unborn children are human beings who are capable of experiencing terrible pain in abortions denies the humanity of the unborn? What backwards logic. You’d rather spend time and money on a bill that will die in the courts and not save one baby instead of a bill that would stop the 1-2 million late-term abortions the U.S. has had since Roe? Again, what failed logic.

    • WillCD

      stevenertelt, your comment doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Are you saying it’s failed logic to spend time and money on a bill that will die in the courts and therefore not save one baby? If so, why did you support this bill? It was common knowledge that the bill would die in the Senate, and on the off chance it made it through the Senate, Obama vowed to veto it. I think the backwards logic lies with you.

      • stevenertelt

        Yes, part of the points of it is to put pressure on the Senate to pass it and if it can get a vote as an attachment to another bill hold that senators accountable in 2014. You don’t effect political change if you don’t have a basis on which change is needed. A vote against banning late-term abortions will be extremely helpful for pro-lifers campaigning to replace pro-abortion lawmakers in 2014. No backwards logic, just forward thinking.

        • Andrew Orlovsky

          Exactly, there are a lot of pro-abortion Democratic senators in red states running for re-election in 2014. I’m sure these senators do not want thier views on abortion well known. This bill will put these lawmakers on the spot for sure.

          • WillCD

            See above.

          • Andrew Orlovsky

            Neither John McCain nor Matt Romney had the balls to call Obama out on his abortion record. In my home state of PA, there are a lot of pro-lifer Catholics who voted for Obama because thier union told them to, and they rationalized it by saying Obama is no more pro-abortion than Romney. I think the Republican candidates will find success if they actually call out Kay Hagan, Mark Begich, Max Baucus and Mary Landreau on their abortion records.

        • BillFortenberry


          Are you in favor of including the exception for rape and incest in this bill? Why or why not?

          • Patricia Brock

            no it is still a baby give it up for adoption at least it will live

        • WillCD

          I still don’t understand the logic in telling someone it’s “failed logic” to support something that will not pass while at the same time supporting something that will not pass.

          If you think that pro-aborts voting against pro-life measures will be “extremely helpful” in replacing them come election time, dare to explain how Obama was elected President after voting against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act 5 times? It appears you are just making this up as you go.

          • Guest

            Well, it certainly didn’t improve his election prospects. I’m sure it did cost him votes, particularly in red states.

            Oh, and it was 3 (maybe 4) times. Not 5.


          • WillCD

            It was 5.

            March 28th, 2001
            March 30th, 2001
            March 6th, 2002
            April 4th, 2002
            March 13th, 2003

          • Guest

            I guess it depends on how you count the March 30th “present” vote (which, in my understanding, has the same effect as a “no” vote in the Illinois Senate). My sources still generally say 3 or 4.

  • marie27

    This is a very thought-provoking post. I am not exactly sure what to make of this issue.
    One interesting point about this legislation is that, though it will (likely) fail, it will serve to show how extreme the Dems are on abortion, that will not even pass this!
    I also think it is important to keep people thinking and talking about abortion, because for the sane portion of society, the more one finds out about abortion, the more and more they come to dislike it, because it is only behind the lies and euphoric and undescriptave language, that they can accept it at all.

    • WillCD

      marie27, this is indeed very thought-provoking. I would bet that any dissenters to this article will not deal with any of the raised points or answer any of the questions put forth.

  • ockraz

    I’m a bit ambivalent.

    I absolutely agree with Josh Craddock about the long term danger of fetal pain legislation. This is the kind of regulation which can make 97% or more of abortions seem less unpalatable or even unobjectionable to the “persuadable” people who aren’t committed to either side. Passing such a law would be a Pyrrhic victory.

    I also see the value in what Steve Ertelt is saying: !) Josh’s critique doesn’t apply because it won’t actually pass. 2) it will strengthen the hand of opponents of vulnerable pro-choice Senators.

    I can see both -as long as this doesn’t become a long term campaign that continues beyond ’14. If it does, then the danger Josh wrote about becomes more immediate.

  • Mamabear

    I see many of the points here. And they are very valid.
    However, one thing that was not raised, is that there is less opposition to abortion in Europe because there is a weaker religious/philosophical foundation for a pro-life group to build on.
    There are many people who oppose abortion on medical/scientific grounds, but let’s be honest. The foundation of the American pro-life movement, the passionate outspoken opponents to abortion, that foundation is found in the churches, primarily Catholic and Evangelical. Europe has few Evangelicals, and the Catholics and traditional Protestants are even weaker in their influence in society than American churches. Just like the leadership for the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and so many other movements for change has come out of the churches, so has the majority of the leadership of the pro-life movement.

  • Patricia Brock

    there are many people out there that would love to have a baby so instead of killing the baby put the child up for adoption I was brought up that abortion is wrong and my children were brought up the same way

  • l_d_allan

    Excuse me for being a pragmatist, but my observation is that if the personhood leadership continues to insist on “all or nothing” legislation, then it will continue to get … nothing.

    I think it is sufficient to take an approach of “getting the camel’s nose into the tent” and make progress this election cycle. Get an issue to expose the liberal legislators, especially in conservative states.

    Then go for more the next election cycle, then more, then more ….

  • A New Craddock Follower

    I’m looking for a working phone number for the World Development Coalition. The only number I can find online is 212-922-1471, but that appears to be disconnected. Can anyone help me out?

  • Elise77

    If we can save some- especially those who stand to suffer the most- we should. I don’t believe in making some babies the martyrs for other babies. I don’t believe in letting them die in anguish in hopes that somehow, someday others will be spared deaths that, while equally tragic, are not equally anguished. I don’t deny the humanity of the smallest, and I don’t believe we should ever stop fighting for them. But to deny justice to some, simply because in an ideal world there SHOULD be justice for all, seems to me a pretty merciless stance toward those who are destined to have their limbs wrenched off in the near future. If I had to witness their demise, I would feel precious little consolation in the idea that we were holding out for the ideal.

    Also: “By banning late-term or partial-birth abortions, the pro-life movement
    simultaneously robs itself of its most grippingly obvious visual
    argument against abortion…”
    Pretty sure that what you just implied there is that as long as abortion exists in any form we should keep allowing it to exist in ALL forms because the tattered remains of tortured-to-death babies make persuasive posters.

    Which is kind of sick.

  • jecd777

    You cannot take away a woman’s right to make the decision whether or not to become a mother. Even though it should have been made at sex and adoption is better than abortion it is unrealistic to believe that most irresponsible women will give their child up for adoption over keeping it and perhaps bringing up a child in welfare, drugs, selfishness, bad homes, etc. And men cannot speak on this because they don’t know what its like to feel a life growing inside you. Although I am a Christian, irresponsibility is never going to elude any generation and the child should not suffer for stupidity that is in most today. That being said, I believe all abortions should be limited to 12 weeks. If you can’t decide in that much time, then carry it to term and put it up for adoption, hopefully. Otherwise, the baby may be nothing more than a paycheck and live a life less than it should. Why make a woman have a baby that she doesn’t want?? Do you see the ignorance in that? If it is unwanted, let it go be with the Lord rather than be born and suffer.

  • juda

    Pro aborts will lose jobs if abortion is abolished but so will pro “lifers” So for 40 years we’ve legislated abortion to keep everyone employed!!

  • Abolitionist