Justice Sonia Sotomayor gruesomely compared babies in the womb to being brain dead during oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday.
Sotomayor asked legal counsel Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart to explain “what has changed in science to show that the viability line is not a real line?” The justice’s questioning quickly turned into pro-abortion grandstanding when she compared a child in the womb to being brain dead and questioned whether or not a physical response by the baby such as a foot recoiling indicates that he or she can feel pain.
“There are spontaneous acts by dead-brained people. So I don’t think that a response by a fetus necessarily proves that there’s a sensation of pain or that there’s consciousness,” she said.
LISTEN: Here's Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor arguing that a baby recoiling from the pain experienced during an abortion is the same as an involuntarily nervous response from a person with brain-damage #DobbsvJackson: pic.twitter.com/z5WmRi1MWM
— John Cooper (@thejcoop) December 1, 2021
As Dr. Katrina Furth noted in the Charlotte Lozier Institute’s “On Science” series, as the baby’s brain develops, so does its capacity to feel pain. At 10 weeks, most babies begin to develop pain receptors in their skin. By 15 weeks, “the spinal nerves needed to transmit touch and pain information to the thalamus have formed.” Even though the cortex is still in early growth stages at this time in gestation, recent research suggests other parts of the nervous system such as the brainstem, insula, and thalamus all play a role in reading and processing pain.
“Furthermore, pain processing appears to develop before the mechanisms that moderate pain signals, so the fetus may experience a greater intensity of pain at 15 weeks’ gestation than an older fetus or child,” Furth wrote.
During her line of questioning, Sotomayor also suggested that claiming that life begins at conception is a “religious view” that should be generally applied.
“The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers, and it’s still debated by religions,” she said. “That’s a religious issue, isn’t it?”
“I think the philosophical questions your honor mentioned, all those reasons that they’re hard, they’ve been debated, they’re important, those are all reasons to return to the people because the people should get to debate these hard issues,” Stewart responded.
Later, in his response to a question from Justice Samuel Alito, Stewart noted that many non-religious people understand when life begins.
“I think there’s a wide array of people of kind of all different views and of no faith views who would reasonably have that view, your honor. It’s not tied to a religious view. … Otherwise this court’s jurisprudence would on this issue with run right into some of its religious exercise jurisprudence,” Stewart said.
Scientific authorities, medical textbooks, and others have long recognized that human life begins when an egg, carrying half of the genetic material required to create life, is fertilized by sperm, which carries the other half of the genetic information.
“[The Zygote] results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual,” Dr. Keith L. Moore wrote in “The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology.”