Judge Asks Doctor if Fetus Can Feel Pain
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP)--In questioning that at times turned graphic, a judge
deciding the constitutionality of a new ban on some abortions grilled
a doctor Wednesday on whether a fetus feels pain during the
The inquiry came in U.S. District Court in Manhattan after lawyers on
both sides had finished questioning Dr. Timothy Johnson, a plaintiff
in one of three lawsuits brought to stop enforcement of the Partial-
Birth Abortion Ban Act.
``Does the fetus feel pain?'' Judge Richard C. Casey asked Johnson,
saying he had been told studies of a form of abortion usually
performed in the second trimester had concluded they do.
Johnson said he did not know, adding he knew of no scientific
research on the subject.
The judge then pressed Johnson on whether he ever thought about fetal
pain while performing abortions involving dismemberment. Another
doctor a day earlier had testified that a fetus sometimes does not
immediately die after its limbs are pulled off.
``Simple question, doctor,'' the judge told Johnson. ``Does it cross
Johnson said it did not.
``Never crossed your mind?'' the judge asked again.
``No,'' Johnson answered.
The exchange touched a key element of the government's argument that
the ban blocks a particularly gruesome type of abortion that causes
pain to the fetus and is not needed to protect a woman's health
because other options are safer.
Abortion-rights advocates and their physician witnesses say the
procedure in which the fetus is partially outside the woman's body
before the abortion is completed is sometimes the safest option and
often protects a woman's health rather than harms it.
The constitutionality of the law, signed by President Bush in
November after eight years of congressional research, is being
decided in simultaneous trials in New York, San Francisco and
Lincoln, Neb. Before the start of the New York trial this week, Casey
declined to exclude evidence about fetal pain.
Casey also questioned Johnson about whether physicians warn women
that a fetus is dismembered during an abortion.
``So you tell her the arms and legs are pulled off?'' Casey asked.
``I mean, that's what I want to know. Do you tell her?''
``We tell her the baby, the fetus, is dismembered as part of the
procedure, yes,'' answered Johnson, a University of Michigan
professor and research scientist at the school's Center for Human
Growth and Development.
Casey asked Johnson if doctors tell women that the abortion procedure
they might use includes ``sucking the brain out of the skull.''
``I don't think we would use those terms,'' Johnson said. ``I think
we would probably use a term like decompression of the skull or
reducing the contents of the skull.''
The judge responded, ``Make it nice and palatable so that they
wouldn't understand what it's all about?''
Johnson said doctors merely want to be sensitive.
``We try to do it,'' Johnson said, ``in a way that's not offensive or
gruesome or overly graphic for patients.''
Copyright 2004, The Associated Press. The information contained in
the AP Online news report may not be published, broadcast or
redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated
© 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution