Get ready for an all-out assault on JAMA.
Taking on one of the most highly charged questions in the abortion debate, a team of doctors has concluded that fetuses probably cannot feel pain in the first six months of gestation and therefore do not need anesthesia during abortions.
Their report, being published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on a review of several hundred scientific papers, and it says that nerve connections in the brain are unlikely to have developed enough for the fetus to feel pain before 29 weeks.
The finding poses a direct challenge to proposed federal and state laws that would compel doctors to tell women having abortions at 20 weeks or later that their fetuses can feel pain and to offer them anesthesia specifically for the fetus.
“From the available biological evidence, it seems very unlikely that a fetus experiences what we think of as pain before 29 weeks of gestation,” [journal article author] Dr. [Mark A.] Rosen said in a telephone interview. Giving anesthesia to the fetus could be difficult and would needlessly expose the pregnant woman to additional risks, he said, adding, “Policy decisions should be based on evidence, scientific evidence, not our emotional beliefs.”