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Texas abortion regulations, new and old, tout suspect science

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“While there are studies that have found an increased risk in developing breast cancer after an induced abortion, some studies have found no overall risk,” reads page 17 of “A Woman's Right to Know,” a pamphlet the State of Texas mandates doctors give to every woman seeking an abortion. “There is agreement that this issue needs further study.”

That's not true, and it wasn't true back in 2003 when state lawmakers passed the “Woman's Right to Know” bill over the objections of the National Cancer Institute, which continues to say there's no abortion-breast cancer link.

“I assume there was some basis for us putting this there in the first place,” said state Rep. Rene Olivera (D-Brownsville) in an April 10 hours-long House State Affairs Committee hearing considering House Bill 2945, which would repeal the scientifically-bogus language. “I think it was based more on ideology than science,” said Rep. Sarah Davis, a pro-life breast cancer survivor and the GOP lawmaker that filed the bill. “This bill is not about abortion,” she said. “It's about giving scientifically accurate information … I would ask that we return to reality in 2013.”

Later that day, after lawmakers left Davis' bill pending in committee, the Lege again put science in its crosshairs, considering Rep. Jodie Laubenberg's (R-Parker) proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

One of Gov. Rick Perry's self-professed priorities for the session, House Bill 2364, the so-called “fetal pain” bill, would ban abortions after 20 weeks on the notion that fetuses can feel pain 20 weeks after conception. Like the breast cancer-abortion warning, it's an argument based on shaky science, opponents insist.

From the get-go, Rep. Jessica Farrar* argued with Laubenberg, who giggled repeatedly  when talk turned to menstrual cycles, saying things like, “Sorry guys … I'm talking very delicately around the men.”

Pro-life advocates have championed similar bills in at least 10 other states since 2010, on the presumption that 20-week fetuses can feel pain. Last month, Idaho's 20-week ban was struck down by a federal judge, and court challenges to similar laws in Georgia and Arizona are pending.

That fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks is anything but established science. Farrar made numerous references to a 2005 study by the The Journal of the American Medical Association, which discredits the fetal-pain theory. According to that JAMA article, nerves aren't sufficiently developed to actually register pain until well into the third trimester. One 2011 study from University College London said fetuses begin to feel pain around a woman's 35th week of pregnancy.

Still, many pro-life doctors testified in favor of Laubenberg's bill — sounding as if they lifted talking points sounded from a website called Doctors on Fetal Pain, where someone has gathered supposed evidence to defend the fetal-pain argument (it's not clear who runs the website; an email to the website administrator wasn't acknowledged or returned).

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