Comments by Rep. Michael Burgess About Fetuses Masturbating Not Based in Science, Doctors Say

The Texas congressman said Monday fetuses masturbate in the womb.

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Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, center, says fetuses can feel pleasure in the womb, which is visible in 15-week sonograms.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said Monday he is opposed to abortion because fetuses masturbate in the womb, and so can feel both pleasure and pain.

"Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful," said Burgess, citing his experience as an OB/GYN, during a House Rules Committee hearing on a GOP bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. "They stroke their face. If they're a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?"

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His comments were first reported by women's health site RH Reality Check.

But Burgess's argument isn't based in science, doctors say.

"We certainly can see a movement of a fetus during that time, but in terms of any knowledge about pleasure or pain - there are no data to assess," says Jeanne Conry, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional association for OB/GYNs. "We don't know enough about the biology and the science."

Any media reports on masturbation by fetuses can almost exclusively be traced back to a single letter written by two OB/GYNs in Italy in 1996 and published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The letter related an anecdote in which the two doctors had "recently observed a female fetus at 32 weeks gestation touching the vulva with the fingers of the right hand" before the female fetus experienced prolonged spasms, and "finally...relaxed and rested."

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Conry said it was wrong to "base science on single observations."

"For whatever reason in our country when it comes to abortion we make statements based not on the science but based on observations and on emotion," she said.

Burgess, whose office did not respond to request for comment, serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is the vice chair of the Subcommittee on Health.

 

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