Dianne Feinstein on abortion: California senator suggests a 15-week fetus isn't a human being

SCOTUS heard oral arguments in Mississippi's abortion law case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., indicated that she doesn't believe a fetus could be considered a "human being" at 15 weeks old, the point at which Mississippi's controversial law attempts to ban abortions.

Fox News asked the senator on Tuesday whether she thought a "fetus at 15 weeks is a human being."

Feinstein responded: "Of course a human being is life, and you do not have life. And so, I think it's up to others other than me, but I basically believe that women should have the right within certain legal restraints to prevent those situations, which can be prevented – which can be very difficult."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., walks to the Senate Chambers at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., walks to the Senate Chambers at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images) (Kevin Dietsch)

"But I have been very steady and steadfast in supporting Roe. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe that women should be able to control their own bodies, and that's my belief."

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Feinstein's communications director, Tom Mentzer, told Fox News: "Her quote makes clear that she believes ‘a human being is life.’" He didn't clarify the rest of her comment and said it was Fox News' "interpretation" that she was saying a 15-week fetus wasn't a human being.

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Feinstein's comments came just after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization last week. The case is expected to revisit whether states should be able to prohibit abortions prior to fetal viability.

Gov. Tate Reeves speaks about selecting Burl Cain, the former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, as the new commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Correction, during Reeves' daily coronavirus update for media in Jackson, Mississippi, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Gov. Tate Reeves speaks about selecting Burl Cain, the former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, as the new commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Correction, during Reeves' daily coronavirus update for media in Jackson, Mississippi, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to codify Roe v. Wade and provide a backstop if the Supreme Court overturns that landmark decision.

But anti-abortion advocates have argued that scientific advances have shed light on the humanity of fetuses and justify more restrictions on the procedure.

"Here's what we know about a child at 15 weeks," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves told Fox News last week. "We know that that child has a heartbeat. We know that that child pumps multiple quarts of blood every single day. We know that that baby is developing its lungs. We know that that baby can squeeze its hands, its fingers."

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The science of fetal pain has been hotly debated. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists previously argued that "the fetus does not even have the physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation."

Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral churchgoers and members gather outside the Planned Parenthood clinic to support abortion law in New York City on Dec. 4, 2021. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral churchgoers and members gather outside the Planned Parenthood clinic to support abortion law in New York City on Dec. 4, 2021. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency)

Anti-abortion advocates like Dr. Tara Sander Lee of the Charlotte Lozier Institute disagree. She's pointed to writings from Dr. Stuart Derbyshire, who previously dismissed "fetal pain" as a "misnomer." In 2020, he co-authored a paper suggesting that the prevailing consensus – pain at 24 weeks – could be wrong. 

"[T]he evidence, and a balanced reading of that evidence, points towards an immediate and unreflective pain experience mediated by the developing function of the nervous system from as early as 12 weeks," the paper read.

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According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, an unborn baby's toes can be seen and its lungs, ears, eyes, arms and legs start to form before the end of the first trimester. Between nine and 12 weeks after conception, a baby's face becomes well-formed, genitals appear, and nails appear on the fingers and toes.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Fox News they believed a 15-week fetus was a human being. The offices for other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to Fox News' requests for comment.