Editor Comes Under Fire for Fetus Story

The editor of a medical journal that published an article this week saying fetuses likely don't feel much pain until late in pregnancy says she has received dozens of angry e-mails from abortion opponents.

Dr. Catherine DeAngelis (search), editor in chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, said Thursday she had to take a walk around the block after receiving dozens of "horrible, vindictive" messages.

"One woman said she would pray for my soul," DeAngelis said Thursday. "I could use all the prayers I can get." She said she is a staunch Roman Catholic (search) and strongly opposes abortion, though she also supports women's right to choose.

Critics said the article in Wednesday's JAMA was a politically motivated attack on proposed federal legislation that would require doctors to provide fetal pain information to women seeking abortions when fetuses are at least 20 weeks old, and to offer women fetal anesthesia at that stage of the pregnancy. A handful of states have enacted similar measures.

One of the five authors of the article is a University of California, San Francisco (search) obstetrician who works at an abortion clinic and a second author — a UCSF medical student and lawyer — worked for several months at the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

DeAngelis said JAMA will publish properly submitted critics' comments in an upcoming edition and will give the authors a chance to respond. But she stood by her decision to publish it.

"There's nothing wrong with this article," DeAngelis said. "This is not original research. This is a review article," based on data in dozens of medical articles by other researchers.

DeAngelis said the obstetrician's experience is not a conflict because performing abortions is often part of that job. She said she would have published the medical student's NARAL connection as a potential conflict of interest had she known about it in advance, but that not mentioning it does not mean that the article or journal are biased.

"If there weren't four other authors and this wasn't a peer-reviewed journal, I'd worry ... but I don't," she said.

Dr. Mark Rosen, the review's senior author, is an anesthesiologist and fetal surgery pioneer who said the article is an objective review of medical literature.

DeAngelis said she attends Mass at least weekly and is also a Eucharistic minister, which allows her to administer communion to fellow Catholics.