Abortion Clinic's Supreme Court Defense Rests on Debunked Study

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September 14, 2021

A Mississippi abortion clinic is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the state's fetal pain abortion law based in part on a debunked medical study.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which sued Mississippi over a 15-week abortion ban, argued in a Supreme Court brief filed Monday that a 2010 review of research proved that pre-viability babies could not feel pain, but it failed to mention that one of the study's architects repudiated the findings. "This medical consensus reflects the conclusions of a multi-disciplinary team of physicians and scientists from all relevant fields after a years-long examination of all peer-reviewed data relevant to the issue," the brief states. 

Neuroscientist Dr. Stuart Derbyshire, who was a lead author in the literature cited by the clinic, updated his findings in a 2020 study after finding that fetuses feel pain at 12 weeks. John Bockmann, who co-authored the 2020 fetal pain study with Derbyshire, said the idea that there is a medical consensus on fetal pain is absurd. He said the brief is an example of abortion advocates disregarding updated science on fetal development. 

"If there were a rebuttal to our paper, which posits fetal pain beginning at 12 weeks, they would have put it front and center," Bockmann told the Washington Free Beacon. Derbyshire, a professor at the National University of Singapore, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Supreme Court will take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the fall term. Legal precedent since Roe v. Wade has declared abortion bans prior to fetal viability to be unconstitutional, but the Court did not intervene to stop a six-week abortion ban in Texas from being implemented in September. 

Mississippi state officials and pro-life activists encouraged the Court to consider updated science on fetal development that was not around during past abortion decisions. Derbyshire, who is pro-choice, previously told the Washington Free Beacon that his 2010 research paper is outdated. Chuck Donovan, president of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, said abortion advocates are fearful that previous abortion cases may not hold up thanks to updated scientific understanding of fetal development. 

"The Mississippi abortion center brief only reinforces that Roe and Casey are based on outdated science," Donovan told the Free Beacon. "Sadly, the abortion industry wants to keep it that way. Citing outdated science, ignoring medical advancements, and putting aside the consensus judgment of the American people, the abortion industry is asking the Court to close their eyes, their minds, and their hearts to the modern miracles of science and the dynamic lives of the unborn."