If you never thought you'd see the day in which an elected United States Representative discusses, in an open forum, a fetus taking pleasure in genital touching, you may want to stop reading this post. If, however, you were always under the impression that it was inevitable that a member of the House -- and a member of the stridently antiabortion GOP, no less -- would have no problem discussing a zygote's views on sexual pleasure, this one's for you.
In a hearing on the forthcoming HR 1797, which would all but outlaw abortions nationwide after 20 weeks, Michael Burgess, representing Texas's 26th district, decided that he would offer his expertise on the matter. We like to think that Burgess, as an OB/GYN, would bring a sound voice to the discussion. We like to think he may provide a bit of scientific salience for a party in which evolution and climate change somehow remain controversial.
Boy, were we wrong. As to the video evidence:
We're not really even sure where to begin. Burgess, whose comments were originally picked up over at RH Reality Check, describes a male fetus shoving his paws in between his legs, to no end. The representative perceives such motions as pleasurable for the young, licentious zygote. Offering little more than anecdote and assumption, Burgess has dictated, all scientific research aside, that 20-week-old fetuses can somehow experience physical pleasure -- ipso facto, they can also feel pain. Unfortunately, Burgess's medical background will lend his comments greater weight. But that doesn't make them any more correct or any more opposed to existing, and peer-reviewed, medical realities. As the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists concluded in 2010,
In reviewing the neuroanatomical and physiological evidence in the fetus, it was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.
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Or perhaps Burgess would prefer the Journal of the American Medicine Association, which was that much more succinct in 2005:
Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.
Nothing until the sixth month. Nothing until the third trimester. Nothing to indicate that Burgess's fetal fornicator is indicative of reality, or of proper legislation.
Burgess is a member of the intelligent set. And the Republican Party -- brimming with those who would deny anthropogenic warming, stuck with those who would deny children the solidity and definition of evolutionary theory -- could certainly use as many as it can recruit. But Burgess, alongside the scientific neophytes in Austin, doesn't simply damage his party in the near term, but turns away the scientifically literate that much further in the mid- and long-term. And if yesterday's profile of Bill Nye the Science Guy is indicative of anything, Millennials are far from afeared of a vituperative God and far more interested in exploring the realities of the world around them. Which is a good sign for the rest of us, and a terrible reality for the future of the Republican Party.