Abortion Bans Premised on Fetal Pain Capacity


  • Katie Wilson

  • This column appears by arrangement with the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities.


Abortion bans premised on fetal pain capacity are this decade's “partial-birth abortion”: a medically suspect anti-choice initiative that can be politically difficult to oppose. No one is “pro–fetal pain.” But rhetorically, the concept of “fetal pain” works to conflate the capacity for pain with the experience of pain. If pain justified banning medical procedures, all surgery would be illegal. Pain is a routine side effect of medical practice. What's unethical is unnecessary pain, and that's why the standard medical response to pain is palliation.