Episode 62: clarifications

Stephanie, our guest on Episode 62 of our podcast/series, wanted the opportunity to discuss her pro-life position that was, she said, based not on religion and belief, but on her own research.

When conversations aren’t scripted and questions aren’t known beforehand, it’s hard to come prepared with accurate facts and sourced material (that goes for anyone in any conversation, us included). So, where something might have been said during our conversation that could use either clarification or correction, it seemed important to make those clarifications, which you’ll find below – along with Stephanie’s responses.

Around 10:49  – STEPHANIE: “At crisis pregnancy centers a lot of times they have a special ultrasound that’s, like, four weeks? Four to six weeks? And so it was really cool to see that, and see the movement, and see the heartbeat, and see a lot of the fingers and the head formation, even at such an early stage.” 

  • Though Stephanie may have been referring to pregnancies that, when observed, were farther along than four weeks even though those machines were available, to eliminate any confusion stemming from the implication that the observed embryos were as young as four weeks, according to the 2019 FactCheck.org article “When Are Heartbeats Audible During Pregnancy?”, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that what is interpreted as a heartbeat in pregnancies as early as six weeks (such as for the “heartbeat” abortion bans) is actually “electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops.” Pediatric cardiologist and researcher Colin Phoon of New York University Langone Health says “heart development occurs over a four-week period, starting in the sixth week of pregnancy. Before the sixth week, he said, ‘There is no heart; there’s nothing beating.’ ”
  • According to a graphic presentation at “Women’s Right to Know,” fingers and toes begin to form on the embryo at week six. 

Stephanie’s response:

I could not remember on the spot all of the weeks and gestational mile markers of the growth of the baby as that really isn’t important to me. Whether it has a heart beat yet doesn’t change whether it is another human life for me. I will say that this has always been a point of debate in the pro-choice/pro-life movement. Electrically induced flickering is technically all a heartbeat is, and people go back and forth on that point. Whether it’s fully formed yet isn’t that important to me because we don’t stop growing until our late teen years, but that doesn’t mean a 12 year old is not a human because he isn’t fully developed. Here’s a video similar to what I saw (it was bigger than this because it was at around the 4 or 5 week mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiZemvnCyXE

Even when it doesn’t have a heartbeat, it’s hard to draw a line at life with a heartbeat because there are people alive because of a pacemaker who have no functioning heart, but I still believe they have intrinsic value. 

At around 14 minutes – STEPHANIE: “They’ve shown, I can’t remember what week it is in development, but it’s pretty early on that they’ve proven they [embryos] can feel pain.” 

There’s an ongoing debate about fetal pain.

  • A 2006 article in Neurology Today says, “Doctors readily agree that a fetus at 20 weeks and even earlier will pull away from a pin prick or other noxious stimulus.’ They do not agree, however, that the reaction indicates the fetus is experiencing pain.” 

  • According to a peer-reviewed study published in a summer 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the article goes on, “a fetus is not capable of experiencing pain until 28 to 30 weeks after conception, when the nerves that carry painful stimuli to the brain have developed. Before that, the fetal reaction to a noxious stimulus is a reflex that does not involve consciousness.”

  • A 2005 comprehensive literature review by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco concluded that “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.”6

  • A fetus cannot experience pain until after viability and lacks the brain structures and connections necessary to process pain. A fetus develops cortical function (“required for conscious perception of pain”) at 29–30 weeks, during the third trimester.6,7 

  • Although a fetus may recoil from stimuli, this reaction does not mean that a fetus feels pain. This reaction “can be elicited by nonpainful stimuli and occur without conscious cortical processing.” Anesthetics are provided during fetal surgery to reduce movement or prevent a hormonal stress response—not to address pain. 

  • Pain is subjective. Without a psychological understanding of pain and the consciousness to know that stimuli are unpleasant, a fetus cannot experience pain.

  • Abortion opponents often cite a 2015 study on outcomes for extremely preterm infants to support their argument that a fetus can survive at 20 weeks postfertilization; however, this study found nearly all infants born prior to this time (22 weeks’ gestation) do not survive. 4,7

  • A 2019 paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics (written by two authors: one pro-life, the other pro-choice, both agreeing on the topic of fetal pain) argues that there’s no way to know with certainty when a fetus can begin to feel pain: 

“We propose that the fetus experiences something that is inherent to a certain level of biological activity, and which emerges at an unknown time often speculated to be after 12 weeks’ gestation. Our position is quite similar to that of others who have argued that animals might not feel pain at all or feel something that is direct and bodily and not connected to any reflection such that the animal might regard the sensation as unpleasant or, indeed, regard the sensation as anything at all. … [T]he neuroscientific data, especially more recent data, could not support a categorical rejection of fetal pain. We also both grew increasingly dissatisfied with the rejection of fetal pain based on a definition of pain that is useful when dealing with patients presenting with pain, but not appropriate to considering the kind of pain a fetus might plausibly experience.”

16:10-ish: Stephanie has just shared an account of an abortion that involves doctors having to “go in the back and count all the limbs, and the fingers and toes, and the head and the skull and the brain, and they talk about, first you sever the head, and you create a hole in the middle of the head and the skull, and they take a vacuum and it sucks out the brains, and then they have to suck out the other parts. And they have to—in order to help prevent any kind of infection, because if any part of the fetus is left in the uterus, it can cause an infection, and it could kill the woman, and because of that, they have to make sure to count every single arm and leg, and any fingers, and they have to make sure all the organs and everything are accounted for when they suction it out.”

ISABEL: “I have a specific question about what you were just talking about. How many weeks is the pregnancy in when they’re sucking out human parts?”

STEPHANIE: “After 8 weeks they have to suck [the fetus] out. … I believe it’s around 8-10 weeks, or somewhere in there.” 

Washington Post:

“’Late-term’ abortions are generally understood to take place during or after the 21st to 24th week of gestation, which is late in the second trimester. That gestational period roughly corresponds to the point of ‘fetal viability,’ or when a fetus might be able to survive outside the womb with or without medical assistance. However, there is no precise medical or legal definition of ‘late-term,’ and many doctors and scientists avoid that language, calling it imprecise and misleading. They say ‘late-term’ may imply that these abortions are taking place when a woman has reached or passed a full-term pregnancy, which is defined as starting in the 37th week.”

  • According to the Comprehensive Women’s Health Center, Colorado, a medical abortion can be performed up to 10 weeks gestation. A surgical abortion can also be performed during this period and involves the following, the website says: “a speculum is inserted into the vagina, the cervix is slightly stretched open, and a small tube is inserted to remove the pregnancy using a suction.”
  • After 20 weeks, “Abortions typically require that the fetus be dismembered inside the womb so it can be removed without damaging the pregnant woman’s cervix,” NPR health correspondent Julie Rovner says. There is also an “intact D&E,” which “involves removing the fetus intact by dilating a pregnant woman’s cervix, then pulling the entire body out through the birth canal.”
  • KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) says “1.2% of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks, which amounts to approximately 5,200 abortions per year occurring at or after 21 weeks, however this is an underestimate as only 33 reporting areas report abortions to the CDC by gestational age.” 
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.3 percent of abortions were performed at or greater than 21 weeks of gestation in 2015. In contrast, 91.1 percent were performed at or before 13 weeks and 7.6 percent at 14 to 20 weeks. These percentages are similar to estimates by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights. Guttmacher found that 1.3 percent of abortions took place at or over 21 weeks out of a total of 926,200 abortions in 2014.

Why late term abortions:

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Almost half of individuals who obtained an abortion after 20 weeks did not suspect they were pregnant until later in pregnancy, and other barriers to care included 

  1. lack of information about where to access an abortion
  2. transportation difficulties
  3. lack of insurance coverage and inability to pay for the procedure
  4. medical reasons”
  • There isn’t a lot of research on [who is obtaining late abortions], but the best information we have comes from a study from the University of California at San Francisco. It found women who got later abortions were similar in “race, ethnicity, number of live births or abortions, mental or physical health history or substance use” to women who got an abortion in the first trimester. They were mostly unmarried, and many were already mothers.

Stephanie’s response:

This is a video made by a former abortionist.

You’re right in that I was thinking of 2nd and 3rd trimester for these procedures and 8-10 weeks was way too early. The one citation I was thinking of was for later terms: https://americanpregnancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/surgicalabortion.pdf

“The fetus is rotated and forceps are used to grasp and pull the legs, shoulders and arms through the birth canal. A small incision is made at the base of the skull to allow a suction catheter inside. The catheter removes the cerebral material until the skull collapses. The fetus is then completely removed.”

I understand some – not all – pro-choicers are not ok with 2nd or 3rd, but pro-lifers usually ask what week is the exact cut-off they allow for aborting, and why. Because if it’s based on pain, brain function, heartbeat, etc., you can always see another human not having one of those things and still being considered a human. As stated previously, such as if they’re in a coma, using a pacemaker, or experiencing a disorder causing them not to be able to feel pain. These may be things that they haven’t formed yet, but regardless, even at week 1 before all of these things are formed I still don’t believe abortion is ethical because even without fully functioning brains, lungs, or hearts, I believe it is still another human life.

 Around 21:55: STEPHANIE:[1] Crisis pregnancy centers give financial, emotional, relational support for women who are scared and confused.” [2] “And a lot of women come in that are forced to get an abortion from their boyfriend or their dad or their pimp.”


“Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations that seek to intercept women with unintended pregnancies who might be considering abortion…. Because the religious ideology of these centers’ owners and employees takes priority over the health and well-being of the women seeking care at these centers, women do not receive comprehensive, accurate, evidence-based clinical information about all available options. Although crisis pregnancy centers enjoy First Amendment rights protections, their propagation of misinformation should be regarded as an ethical violation that undermines women’s health.”

Vox also took a look at pregnancy resource centers:

“In many cases, the patients did get help at the centers. But some resources came with strings attached — free baby clothes and other supplies, for example, were only available if patients took workshops or classes, some of which had a religious component. … [T]he patients [interviewed], most of whom were low-income, also had major needs that could not be met by pregnancy resource centers, from food insecurity to homelessness to high-risk pregnancies that required specialized care.”

The Vox article also notes that “research has shown that [pregnancy crisis center] websites often include misinformation about [abortion’s] risks, like the false claim that abortion is linked to breast cancer or mental health problems. This has led to concerns that the centers will trick people into believing they offer abortion, then dissuade them from the procedure with false claims about its dangers.”

[2] Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives (Guttmacher Institute Report): 

“Some advocates have used highly selective samples to claim that the majority of women having abortions are coerced into the decision. Such claims suggest that women lack control over their own lives, but our findings attest that women independently make the decision to have an abortion. The proportion of women citing influence from partners or parents is small (and has declined since 1987), and fewer than 1% of respondents indicated that this influence was their most important reason. This study is subject to some limitations. Our sample is not strictly nationally representative. Also, only 58% of the abortion patients seen by the participating facilities completed the survey, and nonresponse on some variables— notably, income—was high. However,  the social and demographic characteristics of respondents were  similar to those of two nationally representative surveys, which provides some reassurance that the findings are representative of abortion patients in the United States.”

A greater number of people report experiencing pregnancy coercion.

“Pregnancy coercion was reported by approximately 1 in 5 (19.1%), and birth control sabotage was reported by approximately 1 in 7 (15.0%). More than 2 in 5 (40.9%) had experienced at least one unintended pregnancy. … Even among the youngest in this sample (ages 16–20 years), however, over half had experienced partner violence, 18% pregnancy coercion, and 12% birth control sabotage.” – National Institutes of Health

25:50: STEPHANIE: “I’ve heard many stories of women who were raped who said that the only blessing that came out of their rape was their baby.” 

While Stephanie may have heard those stories, they are anecdotal and possibly not representative of the broader experience. Insight into the impact on both parent and child when the rape-induced pregnancy is carried to term can be found at the National Institutes of Health under the study headline “Bad Blood or My Blood: A Qualitative Study into the Dimensions of Interventions for Mothers with Children Born of Sexual Violence.”

Stephanie’s response:

Again, I’m not saying that’s the case for all women or even most, but I still don’t believe 2 wrongs make a right or that because someone was horrible to a woman that the innocent life must be the one to suffer. I believe the perp should be castrated and put in prison for life.

Around 36:43: STEPHANIE: “Planned Parenthood says that 25% of their procedures are abortion, but the problem is that what they’re doing is when a person comes in they’re giving them a pregnancy test, and then they’re giving them birth control when they leave, and they’re giving them a medical exam, and then they’re giving them the abortion. And all of those four things are happening in just an abortion [appointment], and they’re counting that as four different things.”

An analysis of Planned Parenthood’s services published in the Arizona Republic acknowledged that hard statistics about Planned Parenthood’s breakdown of services and procedures nationwide are hard to come by, but their examination of Arizona’s PP chapter found that “about 13.7 percent of clients received an abortion nationally and about 17.25 percent in Arizona did so,” and that abortion is a primary service offered by PP but “not their main one.” 

Around 45:33 –   STEPHANIE: “[Terri Schiavo) “was fully aware of what was going on, could make eye contact and could make noise”

L.A. Times:

“Independent medical specialists said the report should put to rest any lingering doubts that Schiavo was conscious when her feeding tube was disconnected March 18. They said they concurred that Thogmartin’s findings were in line with the prevailing consensus among neurologists that Schiavo had fallen into a persistent vegetative state brought on by lack of oxygen, causing brain cells to die. Although the primitive parts of the brain that regulate breathing and sleeping continue to function, such patients lose their ability to interact with the world.

However, they do make random movements, which are often misinterpreted by family members as signs that the patients are responding to them, neurologists said.

Washington Post:

“Thogmartin confirmed that Schiavo’s immediate cause of death was ‘marked dehydration — she did not starve to death.’ As measured by the balance of salt and water in body fluids, the dehydration was the most severe he had ever seen, he said.”

Around 1:00:05: STEPHANIE: “Kids go into the foster care system who are wanted by their—usually they are wanted by their parents, but the parents have been in a situation where a boyfriend or an uncle was abusive to the child or to them, or there’s some kind of financial barrier.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation says of children in foster care, “Often these children — from babies to teens — have been removed from their parents because they are unsafe, abused or neglected or their parents are unable to care for them.”

Adopt Us Kids, a national project that supports child welfare systems and connects children in foster care with families, says, “Children and teens enter foster care through no fault of their own, because they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and are unable to continue living safely with their families.”

The top two reasons children enter the foster care system, supplied by adoption.com, are abuse and neglect. Other reasons include parental drug abuse, incarceration, loss of parents, and parent’s illness.

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