Latest Claim in Abortion Fight: Fetuses Masturbate
Lawmaker says they feel pleasure, so why not pain?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2013 1:51 PM CDT

(Newser) – As the House debates a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, Texas Republican Michael Burgess has offered the most headline-grabbing defense of the legislation so far:

  • "Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they're a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?"
The comments by Burgess, who worked as an OB/GYN before entering Congress, were first spotted by women's health site RH Reality Check. They have since led to a slew of headlines about self-pleasuring fetuses and blog posts like this one at Slate by Amanda Marcotte:
  • "The bill is expected to pass the House but has no chance in the Senate or with the president, which means that perhaps after this one dies, Burgess will be the inspiration for the next bill: Masturbation-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which under the Burgess 'making it up as you go along' scientific standard will only apply to male fetuses ..."

US News & World Report quotes medical experts as saying that Burgess' view isn't supported by science, though it calls attention to a 1996 letter published in the American Journal of Obstetrics by two OB/GYNs in Italy. The doctors wrote that they "recently observed a female fetus at 32 weeks gestation touching the vulva with the fingers of the right hand" for about 20 minutes before she "relaxed and rested." No study has backed up the notion that fetuses can feel either pleasure or pain, says the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.