by Cathy Cleaver, Esq.
July 6, 2004
Philosopher Rene Descartes in the 17th century was notorious for believing that animals do not feel pain. Some Descartes scholars argue that what he denied was not the animal's ability to be conscious of pain, but rather its ability to be self-conscious about it -- that is, to sense that the feelings are associated with that animal's own self.
In America today there are federal animal welfare laws because we recognize that animals do feel pain, regardless of whether they experience what some call existential suffering. There are laws on the humane slaughter of farm animals and on how research laboratory animals may be treated, among others.
But this compassion does not reach the unborn human baby. One culprit here is the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which requires government to be blind to the unborn child's claim on life where abortion is concerned. This has encouraged many to be blind to the child's pain and suffering, as well.
Every year 20,000 unborn children are killed in abortions done at 21 weeks' gestation or beyond, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control.
Yet testimony from recent federal trials regarding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act made known to the general public a fact that has been known to researchers for years: that unborn children can experience pain at 20 weeks, if not before. Pain expert Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand testified that abortions at this stage will cause pain to the unborn child, and "it will be severe and excruciating pain."
Witnesses from the abortion industry made clear that they didn't know the research on fetal pain, and what's more, they didn't care.
Judge Richard Casey asked Dr. Stephen Chasen, a plaintiff in the New York lawsuit, "Does it hurt the baby?" He answered, "I don't know." Later in the exchange, Judge Casey asked, "I asked you if you had any care or concern for the fetus whose head you were crushing." His answer: "No."
Testimony also revealed that the very women making the decision to abort are kept in the dark about this important information. An exchange between Judge Richard Casey and Dr. Marilynn Fredriksen is illustrative:
THE COURT: Do you tell [the women] whether or not it will hurt the fetus?
THE WITNESS: The intent [is] that the fetus will die during the process of uterine evacuation.
THE COURT: Ma'am, I didn't ask you that, you will deliver the baby partially and then insert a pair of scissors in the base of the fetus' skull...Do you tell them whether or not that hurts the fetus?
THE WITNESS: I have never talked to a fetus about whether or not they experience pain.
Thankfully, Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Chris Smith have begun efforts to right this wrong by introducing the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, requiring that mothers be notified about the pain caused by abortions at 20 weeks. If the United States has enough compassion to pass laws on the well-being of animals, surely it can find the compassion to acknowledge the pain that abortion causes to human children.
Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq. is the Director of Planning and Information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.