Top Medical Group Scrubs Discredited Information Used To Push Late-Term Abortion

Pro-life and pro-choice activists clash in front of the Supreme Court / Getty Images
May 26, 2022

One of the abortion industry's top medical allies deleted from its website the now-discredited claim that fetuses only experience pain in the later stages of pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the leading membership organization for OB-GYNs, removed a webpage titled "Facts are Important: Fetal Pain" that claimed fetuses do not feel pain until viability, which is roughly 24 weeks. The page only cited two studies, whose credibility has been called into question in recent years. Dr. Stuart Derbyshire, a coauthor of one of the studies, repudiated his findings in a 2020 analysis that concluded fetuses may be able to experience pain as early as 12 weeks. The National University of Singapore neuroscientist, who is pro-choice, said ACOG should account for this new research if it updates its guidance.

"ACOG should approach fetal pain as an open question—a question that is not resolved with any certainty but where there is a reasonable question mark over what a fetus might feel from around 12-18 weeks' gestation," Derbyshire told the Free Beacon.

The other study ACOG cited faced criticism after two of its authors failed to disclose their abortion-industry ties prior to publication. ACOG's decision to pull the webpage comes just months after a Washington Free Beacon report that detailed how the organization used the studies to push for late-term abortions, claiming abortion providers should be able to abort fetuses who do not experience pain.

ACOG told the Free Beacon that it removed the page because it is updating its abortion information ahead of a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade. ACOG deleted the webpage at least two weeks before reports emerged that the Supreme Court is set to overturn the landmark decision, according to an April 16 archive of the website. When asked whether it is updating its guidance on fetal pain, ACOG pointed to the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's medical policy, which ACOG endorses, that claims fetuses may be unable to feel pain even after 25 weeks. The organization did not respond to follow-up questions on whether it removed other abortion content from its website or whether it plans to acknowledge new studies on fetal pain.

Several amicus briefs for the Supreme Court case involving Mississippi's 15-week ban, which could overturn Roe, weighed in on whether fetal pain begins before viability. Experts also testified on the issue at lower courts. During the Supreme Court case hearing in December, Justice Sonia Sotomayor dismissed recent research on the topic as coming from "a small fringe of doctors" who believe that "pain could be experienced before a cortex is formed."

Supreme Court justices have cited ACOG in several cases on issues such as late-term abortion, abortion providers' access to hospitals, and contraception. ACOG called on the Court to strike down the Mississippi 15-week abortion ban and advocated against Texas's six-week abortion ban. The organization also lobbied in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act, which would overturn all abortion restrictions nationwide but failed to pass in the Senate in May.

Dr. Ingrid Skop, a senior fellow at the Charlotte Lozier Institute with more than 25 years of experience as an obstetrician-gynecologist, noted that only a small portion of OB-GYNs perform abortions, so ACOG's persistent advocacy on the issue is not representative of its members.

"ACOG has abandoned the protection of the unborn child and his mother and instead seeks to coerce physicians into an action that violates their conscience, in pursuit of its goals of social engineering," Skop told the Free Beacon.

Several ACOG presidents worked for Planned Parenthood before, during, or after their tenure. The organization in recent years has advocated for the use of federal taxpayer dollars to fund Planned Parenthood. Jane Hodgson, an ACOG cofounder who was convicted in 1970 of performing an illegal abortion, was later awarded the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Margaret Sanger Award for her advocacy.