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7 July 2010

AR update, 7 July 2010

Why do people get pregnant (when they don't want to be?); the science of fetal pain and the ethics of abortion; Australian attitudes to late abortion, and more ...

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- 1. WHY DO PEOPLE GET PREGNANT (WHEN THEY DON’T WANT TO BE)?

The 2010 BPAS annual lecture was given by Kristin Luker, the foremost American sociologist researching contraceptive use and risk taking around unplanned pregnancy in the USA.

Professor Luker argued that how individuals think about contraception, birth, pregnancy and abortion is ‘actually an enormously complicated risk analysis’. Individuals calculate the costs of contraception, the benefits of getting pregnant, the probabilities of pregnancy, and the probabilities of reversing the ‘decision’: ‘I put “decision” in quotes because it’s much too formal a word for what I think really happens’.

Individuals’ decisions are affected by a range of factiors, including the changing social meaning of sex and pregnancy, and the broader ‘politics of motherhood’. Recognising this situation raises ‘some very difficult and awkward questions’ to do with unplanned and unwanted pregnancy: ‘unplanned by whom? And more subtly, and more deeply, unwanted by whom?’

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- 2. THE SCIENCE OF ‘FETAL PAIN’, AND THE ETHICS OF ABORTION

Commentary by Stuart Derbyshire, a member of Working Party that produced the RCOG’s new reports on fetal awareness.

‘The 2010 report on fetal awareness concludes that the necessary connections for pain are not intact before 24 weeks, and so “the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation”. It also concludes that fetal pain is highly unlikely after 24 weeks, both because important neural development is ongoing and because the fetus remains asleep and sedated in the womb.

‘The report stood above the political arguments about abortion and refrained from commenting on the ethics of abortion. No attempt was made to create an argument for or against abortion at any gestational age and the committee took the correct view that abortion is not a question that can be resolved by science. Science may be useful in informing the decisions of policymakers, but science cannot decide if abortion is right or wrong or whether it should be legal…’

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- 3. UK: IMPORTANT NEW REVIEW ON FETAL AWARENESS PUBLISHED

There is no new evidence to show fetuses feel pain in the womb before 24 weeks, a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has stated.

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- 4. AUSTRALIAN ATTITUDES TO EARLY AND LATE ABORTION

A study of public opinion published in the Medical Journal of Australia has found a high level of support for access to early abortion, and little support for professional sanctions against doctors for providing terminations after 24 weeks’ gestation.

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- 5. ‘ENHANCING THE LIVES OF CHILDREN: HOW FAR SHOULD WE GO?’

A conference at the Royal Society of Medicine raised some interesting and important questions about how today’s society should view the role of genetic, chemical and behavioural techniques in shaping children’s health and behaviour. Jennie Bristow reports.

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