In a preview of the many pronouncements to come on the floor of Congress as the House debates a legislative ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, allow us to introduce you to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who believes that abortion should be banned earlier than the Supreme Court says it should because, in part, he knows fetuses feel pain. He knows this because he says he's seen male fetuses begin masturbating in the womb around 15 weeks into a pregnancy.
During a House Rules Committee debate on Monday, which was spotted by Adele Stan at RH Reality Check, regarding the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — the restrictive abortion bill for which debate begins today and which would ban procedures nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy and effectively dissolve the 23-24 week abortion window provided by Roe v. Wade — Burgess unleashed the following (video below):
This is a subject I know something about ... 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 believe that they could feel pain?
So, this member of the U.S. Congress has now said, on the Congressional record, that male fetuses at 15 weeks into development are consciously touching their tiny fetal penises to give themselves pleasure. And Burgess is stating, on the Congressional record, that we should trust him because of his experience as a doctor. According to the GOP Doctors Caucus website, he has practiced as an OB/GYN for 25 years — 25 years of tiny masturbating fetuses.
So is he right? Well, sorta ... but not really. In the blurry, ultrasonographic world of masturbating fetuses, the most conclusive finding was in 1996, when two Italian doctors witnessed what they believed was a female fetus purportedly masturbating for 20 minutes and logged their discovery in a letter to The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. That abstract isn't available online, but their finding has been cited, and previews of the study exist:
But that fetus was at 32 weeks, not 15 weeks, as Burgess cited. And at 32 weeks, fetuses are usually around 3.5 pounds. At 15 weeks, fetuses are around 4 inches long and weigh just a few ounces. Presuming the 1996 finding is the norm (and represents a big jump in itself), the research still doesn't give any credence to Burgess's already shocking don't abort fetuses because they're masturbating logic, because the fetus witnessed in 1996 was twice the age Burgess cited. Basically, the masturbating fetus argument does not help anything — and it may undermine Burgess's insistence that fetuses feel pain and pleasure at 15 weeks.
If Burgess wanted to make a point about masturbating fetuses and ban third-trimester abortions, he'd have supporters. ABC News explained in January that both pro-choice supporters (79 percent) and pro-life advocates (96 percent) strongly believe in making abortion illegal in the third trimester. And those third-trimester numbers are very tiny as it is: "In the U.S., 88 percent of abortions are done in the first 12 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute; fewer than 1 percent are in the third trimester." ABC News reported.
But that isn't what Burgess and conservatives want. Their restrictive, 20-week ban and attack on Roe v. Wade is expected to pass the House as early as Tuesday, the AP reports. The Democratic-led Senate, of course, is expected to completely ignore the bill, and the Obama administration last night announced a veto threat. Indeed, the only thing that seems to be in question with this bill is which member of the House GOP caucus will try to top Burgess and his masturbating fetuses now that he's topped Rep. Trent Franks, the bill's sponsor, and his "incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy" line from last week.
Here's the video of Burgess at Monday's session — we don't blame you for double-checking:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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