JAMA has announced it does not intend to retract a 2005 review article about fetal pain, despite requests from anti-abortion activists who claim it has been misused in debates about the procedure.
Earlier this month, JAMA told one anti-abortion critic that it would take a look at the paper, which suggested that fetuses can’t feel pain before the third trimester. Critics have argued that newer findings have shown pain sensation appears earlier in gestation, yet the 2005 data continue to be cited in the discussion around abortion. What’s more, critics have lamented that some of the authors failed to mention their ties to the abortion industry.
But in a letter sent yesterday to James Agresti, Howard Bauchner, Editor in Chief at JAMA and The JAMA Network, writes:
…there is no evidence that the article on fetal pain by Lee et al published in JAMA 2005 should be retracted.
Getting into specifics, Bauchner notes that the 2005 paper words its conclusions carefully, using modifiers such as “probably” and “unlikely,” making the uncertainty around the topic clear.
Virtually all review articles, such as the article by Lee et al, represent a summary of the evidence available at the time of the review of a topic. Although subsequently published reports may add to the existing evidence on a topic, or propose alternative theories, that new information does not require retraction of previous review articles. In addition, for the article by Lee et al, there is no evidence supporting other issues that would necessitate retraction, such as fabrication or falsification.
Regarding the conflicts of interest, Agresti has claimed that two of the authors of “Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence” worked in abortion clinics, and the lead author has served as a lawyer for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now NARAL Pro-Choice America. To this point, Bauchner writes:
With respect to the issue you raise regarding potential conflict of interest, the information we have indicates that the authors complied with the journal conflict of interest requirements in 2005. Moreover, in other published articles in which questions have been raised about whether authors have fully disclosed their affiliations and interests, those types of questions have not necessitated retraction.
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