In the post-Roe era, state courts across the nation are being asked to overturn laws protecting the unborn. And the Sunshine State is no exception.
The Florida Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case challenging the state’s law limiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That means unborn children may lose their protection from the excruciating pain of abortion before the second trimester. Such a decision would be a tragedy for both mother and child.
Florida’s commonsense 15-week abortion law is consistent with the sentiment of a majority of Americans who don’t support abortion after the first trimester, in large part because of the pain inflicted upon unborn children in the womb. Court discussions, however, rarely involve a discussion around the medical definition of “pain” at this gestational age — much less an analysis of the increased risks that abortions at this stage pose to the health of the mother.
As an OB/GYN, I am tasked with the responsibility for two lives — the mother’s and the baby’s — when a pregnant woman walks through my doors. This shouldn’t be an anomaly in the medical industry. Science undeniably confirms that an unborn child, at all stages of development, is a living human being with its own separate and unique DNA.
At just four weeks post-fertilization age, a child in the womb has a heartbeat. At eight weeks of gestational age, the child has lips, and a nose and responds to touch. At just 10 weeks of gestational age, the child moves its fingers and toes and shows a preference for being left- or right-handed.
Furthermore, studies show that at 14 weeks, the fully formed unborn child recoils much like an adult would with vigorous body and breathing movements, increased heart rate, and increased blood flow to the brain when experiencing intrahepatic vein needling. These reactions, along with the increased levels of stress hormones and endogenous opioids, which are independent from maternal levels, indicate that the child is capable of feeling pain.
Abortions at any stage of the child’s development are tragically inhumane. But at 15 weeks, due to the size of the child at this age, 95% of abortions are conducted via the D&E procedure, a manual extraction in which the abortion provider literally dismembers the child by tearing off the legs, arms, and sections of the torso, and then crushing and removing the skull.
If a child at this gestational age can recoil simply from intrahepatic needling, one can’t even begin to fathom the excruciating suffering he experiences throughout this entire process.
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” In society, we work to take extra precautions to avoid pain, just as we do in medicine, including when we do not know whether the recipient is capable of fully experiencing it. Take organ harvesting from brain-dead patients, for example. Even when potentially painful procedures are performed on people in a persistent vegetative state, anesthesia is used because the goal is to limit the pain, not inflict further harm.
Grievously, the dangers don’t stop there. Performing an abortion at 15 weeks not only agonizes the child moments before its devastating passing, but the mother is also at increased risk of death. Studies reveal that as the uterus grows, the risk of death from abortion increases by 38% for each added week beyond eight weeks. In contrast to earlier abortions, the relative risk of death is 14.7 times higher at 13 to 15 weeks, 29.5 times higher at 16 to 20 weeks, and 76.6 times higher beyond 21 weeks.
Recklessly endangering the life of one patient while deliberately and painfully ending the life of another, as shown by the dark reality of abortions at 15 weeks, is the opposite of health care. State courts have an immense responsibility to uphold commonsense laws, like Florida’s 15-week limit that save lives and bolster the efforts of OB/GYNs to exceptionally serve both moms and babies entrusted in their care.
• Dr. Karysse Trandem is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologic surgeon in Naples, Florida. She has completed distinguished research fellowships at both the National Institutes of Health in Washington and the World Health Organization in Geneva.