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Op-Ed Debunks Justifications for 20-Week Abortion Bans

May 29, 2015 — The "idea of fetal pain is just the latest way the pro-life lobby is trying to reduce access to abortion," columnist Latoya Peterson writes in a Fusion opinion piece, citing a 20-week abortion ban recently proposed in Wisconsin.

Peterson notes that the 20-week ban was one of several pieces of antiabortion-rights legislation advanced over the Memorial Day weekend, joining a 20-week ban (HB 2568) that took effect in West Virginia, proposed clinic zoning restrictions (HB 527) in Alabama and parental involvement measures in Texas (HB 3994) and Nevada (AB 405). Further, she writes that conservative lawmakers did not move these bills "in the day light" but instead "rel[ied] on meetings conducted on a Sunday during [a] national holiday weekend, complicated riders and strategically excluding opponents from a late night vote."

Peterson explains that the 20-week bans "are justified by the sponsors of some of these bills basing their claims on misinterpreted research that says fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks" and are written so as "to horrify and frighten voters into agreement." She writes, "For people who would term themselves pro-life, this shows a stunning lack of regard for the health of the woman -- physical and emotional -- now required to carry the pregnancy to term, regardless of the outcome or the [fetus'] lack of continued development."

According to Peterson, 20-week bans often burden women who, around that time of pregnancy, have discovered severe fetal anomalies, "complicat[ing] this already horrifying time with arbitrary rules designed to increase suffering." Further, she notes that conservative lawmakers simultaneously "attempt to challenge the shrinking number of doctors willing to even consider such a procedure" by "[i]ncreasing penalties and decreasing clinic access."

"By pandering to an increasingly fringe minority, who will take any symbolic victory against abortion and leave the bodies of women in their wake, extremist lawmakers are willing to ignore medical facts and statistics and hurt women to advance their cause," Peterson writes. She adds, "It's time to stop using abortion as a political football and acknowledge that shady political tactics are not providing more clarity, safety, or options for women and families in need" (Peterson, Fusion, 5/27).