Here’s a valuable piece of writing for Science Progress from the classrooms of the University of Arkansas by Dr. Lisa Corrigan, co-chair of the gender studies program of the Fulbright College.


It’s about the proliferation of abortion bans beginning at 20 weeks of pregnancy, such as Arkansas just passed. It aims at a tiny number of abortions, she notes — just a few dozen a year in Arkansas. Advocates base the laws, she writes,

…on junk science based on the pseudoscience of fetal pain to warrant the state laws prohibiting third trimester abortions. Their claims stem from erroneous assertions that the fetus feels pain at 20 weeks, despite several comprehensive literature reviews demonstrating no credible evidence of fetal pain until the third trimester. Likewise, the case for “fetal pain” rests on the argument that the rights of the fetus should take precedence over the civil rights of the mother.

One of many other problems, is that late abortions are inevitably the product of grave medical problems. Sometimes, they can’t be known until after 20 weeks.


While ultrasounds administered prior to 20 weeks are generally adequate to assess major organ systems, they fail to detect major cardiac, skeletal, and craniofacial anomalies, particularly those that are lethal to the fetus.

The Arkansas law provides no exceptions for these cases or for rape and incest victims. It was passed over the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe, who said it was unconstitutional because it banned abortions at a time before a fetus could survive outside the womb, in clear contradiction of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

For many families who have never dealt with the trauma of fetal anomalies, it may seem difficult to understand why third term abortions are necessary. But when abortion care is restricted at 20 weeks, women are often forced to carry nonviable fetuses, often to term. In the case of lethal fetal anomalies, this requirement means countless appointments, treatments, tests, and conversations about the imminent death of their fetus, inflicting preventable trauma on families who want to carry a healthy fetus to term.

You may remember a gripping first-person account of this situation in the Times during the legislative debate. It went unheeded by most Arkansas legislators. Other points by Corrigan:


* STRESS: The restrictive laws put enormous psychological burdens on families, as well as the physical stress on forcing a mother to carry a fetus to term without likelihood of survival of the fetus.

* DISPROPORTIONATE IMPACT: Economic circumstances mean poor and minority are less likely to get early medical intervention.

* REJECTION OF SCIENCE: Climate change anyone? Creation science?

The reliance on junk science instead of data on fetal anomalies leads to laws that ignore double-blind, peer-reviewed science in favor of laws that punish women and doctors unnecessarily. These laws complicate the ability of doctors to provide timely and complete prenatal care for women and they elevate the fetus, regardless of viability, over the rights of women and their families.

…Legislation prohibiting access to reproductive health care at any arbitrary point alienates women from the policymaking process by objectifying them and attempting to erode their right to physical autonomy by privileging the fetus over the needs of the mother.

The 20-week bans have been struck down in several states. As yet, the Arkansas law has not been challenged. It will be, when a woman in desperate straits finds her highly personal and scientifically rooted desire to end a pregnancy comes up against Arkansas religious preference, masquerading as science. Lawyers are at work drafting the necessary request for an injunction, which, inevitably, will be granted as others have been. As a judge wrote in Idaho:


The State’s clear disregard of this controlling Supreme Court precedent and its apparent determination to define viability in a manner specifically and repeatedly condemned by the Supreme Court evinces an intent to place an insurmountable obstacle in the path of women seeking non-therapeutic abortions of a nonviable fetus at and after twenty weeks’ gestation.