Bioethics Blogs

Pain-Capable Abortion Bans

More than three decades ago, I went to visit a friend who was hospitalized at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. On the way from the parking lot to her room, I encountered a group of animal rights activists protesting the use of animals in medical research. To this day I vividly remember the chant they repeated again and again: “A cat is a rat is a dog is a boy.” Operating on a hunch, I couldn’t resist asking about their viewpoint on abortion. As I suspected, the group was decidedly pro-choice, connecting their acceptance of abortion with the problem of over-population. Even at the time, I thought it strange that someone could be against animal research for medical benefit but for abortion. Thirty years later, I still think it strange.

A few weeks ago South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a law that bans abortion at or after 20 weeks. Undoubtedly, the pro-choice camp will be up in arms against the law. Arkansas and other states have passed similar “pain-capable” abortion laws that remain stymied in judicial review.

Two reasons often set forth for prohibiting abortions at and after 20-weeks are the fetus’ resemblance to an infant and the fetus’ capacity to feel pain. I wish to make one point regarding the latter criterion. Specifically, I contend that one cannot be for animal rights and, at the same time, be against laws that prohibit abortions at the at the development stage of sentience.

For animal rights proponents, the launching point of their argument for animal equality and their opposition to “speciesism” is that non-human animals are capable of feeling pain like human animals, and thus, should not be discriminated against but rather accorded equal consideration.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.