The debate on abortion has been long and controversial. There are some perfectly valid arguments the anti-abortion side can make. Whether they are strong enough arguments to refute the pro-choice position is another matter entirely and up to individual interpretation. But at least they are real positions.
However, there are also loony arguments, and while it's hard to point to which is the most crazy, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) has just made him a contender for #1. It's that a male fetus at 15 weeks masturbates and therefore feels pleasure.
As I often feel important to point out -- no, this is not a piece of satire from The Onion.
Burgess is former OB/GYN and says "This is a subject that I do know something about." And that is true. He knows something about it. Whether he knows a lot about it, or even enough, that's something else entirely.
"Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?"
First of all, it's important to note that in his supposedly-objective, scientific statement as a doctor about something he knows about, he refers to the 15-week fetus rather as a "baby." Clearly, he's trying to draw an emotional connection that actual experts don't, and therefore attempts to confuse the issue. But even accepting for the sake of argument that what he says he is seeing and describing is true, there is zero evidence he provides that the fetus is actually feeling pleasure while he/it is supposedly spanking the monkey. The truth is, for all we know, unless we can see a big grin on its face, or hear cries of "Oh, yes, yes, come to poppa," the limb of the fetus may well just be flopping around and naturally finding something unknown, and feeling absolutely nothing.
Besides which, if this is so pleasurable to the male fetus, when then is Rep. Burgess limiting his observation to males only? Why not the happy, little female fetus? Isn't there something for her/it to pleasure herself over? Don't they deserve a little bit of happiness. And if not, then maybe -- just maybe, that isn't what the male fetus is doing at all.
This has all come to a head -- no pun intended -- because of the debate of a harsh anti-abortion bill sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). (The bill, it should be noted, passed the House yesterday, 228-196.)
And in that regard, RH Reality Check has a very detailed article here that lays waste to religious far-right claims during the debate that a fetus at 20 weeks feels pleasure (let alone the 15 weeks of Rep. Burgess). As it notes, the "some experts" referred to in the Findings section of the Franks bill is really only one paper -- and of the two people listed as authors, one isn't even a doctor (but a bioethicist), and the other lists herself as being associated with Drexel University -- yet at the bottom of the page it notes that she is a non-compensated member of the faculty.
On the other hand, that same Findings section of the Franks bill dismisses the assertions by "some medical experts" that no fetal pain is felt. However, as the Reality Check article notes, these "some experts" include -- the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, among others— "in other words, actual doctors and researchers."
I'm all for real, serious, substantive debate. As I made clear in a recent posting about the gun debate, though, I hate razzle-dazzle arguments that have nothing to do with the actual topic at end, but which only try to throw up smoke and mirrors. If you have something substantive to add to the debate, say it. If not, quit beating yourself up.
Okay, yes, that pun was intended.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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