Group launches $2M TV campaign to highlight the humanity of unborn children
The Supreme Court will consider whether Mississippi's 15 week ban on abortions is unconstitutional
EXCLUSIVE: An anti-abortion group is pouring an initial $2 million into a campaign they say will "highlight the humanity of unborn children" as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that critics say could undercut Roe v. Wade.
Announced on Wednesday, the 30 second ad will appear on national cable networks – including on Lifetime, Hallmark, and Bravo – as well as the Washington, D.C. market. It comes months before the court will consider whether Mississippi's 15 week ban on abortions is unconstitutional.
"Five decades of medical breakthroughs – every age group has more opportunity, except one," a female narrator says in the ad run by Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List.
"The unborn still fall victim to outdated laws. Science tells us that at 15 weeks, these babies have formed faces," it adds, alongside pictures of an ultrasound.
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"They smile, they yawn, they feel pain … In five decades we've learned they are just like us. Isn't it time the law reflects the science?"
The ad touches on conservatives' longstanding expectation that science will expand viability and vindicate their assertions about life in the womb. As anti-abortion advocates often note, babies have survived outside of the womb at increasingly younger ages.
Fetal pain and development
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.
By 15 weeks, which is in the second trimester, abortion procedures can involve tearing a fetus' limbs and crushing its skull, according to descriptions from a former abortion doctor.
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The issue came to a head when a former Planned Parenthood director, Abby Johnson, spoke at the Republican National Convention last year. Johnson's graphic recounting of seeing an 13-week-old fetus "fighting back" and fleeing suction prompted a raging debate about when babies can feel pain.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, SBA List's research arm, maintains that fetuses can feel pain prior to 20 weeks, which is the cutoff for pain capable bills that have been proposed in Congress. They argue, for example, that "[s]ensory receptors for pain (nociception) develop first around the mouth at 7 weeks , and are present throughout the skin and mucosal surfaces by 20 weeks."
Critics like Dr. Jen Gunter have argued that fetuses can't feel pain until around 28-29 weeks. "The thalamocortical fibers, the connections in the brain from the thalamus to the cortex, start [emphasis her's] to develop around 23 weeks gestational age," Gunter told Fox News via email last year.
"So 23 weeks represents the earliest possible beginning of connecting the thalamus to the cortex, but other connections are also needed for pain, so the wiring is likely not developed enough for pain until at least 28-29 weeks gestational age. Having the mechanisms in place does not mean pain is perceived, just that the basic platform is there. It's also important to remember that fetal physiology (before birth) is vastly different from neonatal physiology (after birth)."
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She added that a "fetus is not capable of purposeful movement. All fetal movements are random."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists similarly has argued that "perception of pain requires more than just the mechanical transmission and reception of signals."
Dr. Robin Pierruci, a neonatologist with CLI, told Fox News that the evidence is mixed, although Johnson's account is credible. She has said that premature babies respond to pain stimuli outside of the womb and cites a paper indicating that fetuses could feel pain as early as 12 weeks.
The advent of ultrasound guided abortions has also raised questions about fetal experience during the procedure. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an abortion doctor who opposed the procedure after viewing it on an ultrasound, famously produced the "Silent Scream" documentary which showed a fetus flailing violently in response to suction.
While Supreme Court decisions are difficult to predict, liberals worry that the court's 6-3 conservative majority would allow them to cut deeply into longstanding precedent. By weakening Roe v. Wade and its associated cases, the court would be opening the door for states to ban abortion, critics say. Mississippi's law in particular would raise questions about whether states should be restricted to halting abortions at viability.
In recent years, the court has heard cases on abortion restrictions but not outright bans like the one passed in Mississippi. A long list of states have attempted to implement restrictions ranging from clinic regulations to bans at the point when doctors can detect heartbeats. Under Chief Justice Roberts, the court has declined to hear at least two of those heartbeat cases, whose laws effectively limit abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy.
Advocates like Planned Parenthood argue that state laws have intruded on women's privacy and thwarted abortions, which they view as basic health care.
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SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser argued: "The science is simple: unborn children are human beings and deserve protection."
She added that "[a]cross the country, state lawmakers acting on the will of the people have introduced nearly 550 pro-life bills – 70 already enacted so far this year – aimed at recognizing these facts and humanizing our laws. We are eager to further educate the nation about these realities and are hopeful that the law will soon catch up to the science."