Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia delighted pro-life advocates today by signing a law that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the scientific evidence showing unborn children feel pain at least at that point in development, if not sooner.
The legislation makes Georgia the seventh state to adopt such a law. None of those measures has been successfully challenged in court.
Georgia Right to Life president Dan Becker applauded passage of the measure and said it could very well save the lives of more than 1,000 unborn children who die annually from such abortions in his state. The state’s current law allows abortions for almost any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
The new law, HB 954 sponsored by Rep. Doug McKillip (District 115), will take effect on January 1 and it establishes that Georgia has a “compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which they are capable of feeling pain.” That stage is now set at 20 weeks after gestation, which means no abortions can be performed after that, except in cases where it’s necessary to save the life of the mother, or to end a “medically futile” pregnancy.
“While this new law represents significant progress in saving lives, a last-minute amendment that allows doctors to end so-called futile pregnancies is a first step to establishing a eugenic policy in Georgia,” Becker said, “It opens the door to destroying babies doctors think may be less than perfect.”
Noting that the proposal prompted a heated and emotional debate, Becker added “I commend those legislators who honored the sanctity of life and did not abandon their principles.”
“This was an intense and highly emotional debate,” Becker said, “and I am grateful to Lt. Governor, Casey Cagle, and House Speaker, David Ralston, for their efforts to protect the unborn.”
Becker said pro-abortion lawmakers frequently used false information to make it appear unborn children do not feel pain during an abortion or are not capable of feeling pain during pregnancy.
“It was truly disheartening to witness the lengths to which the abortionists would go,” Becker said, “they ignored the horror of abortion, dismissed proven scientific evidence and in some cases resorted to outright slander in making their case.”
Like Becker, the Georgia Family Council was disappointed that some weakening language was added to the bill.
“While we were happy to see HB 954 brought up for a vote last night after hours of debate, we were disheartened to see amendments added to the legislation at the last moments that, when passed, gutted the bill,” the group informed LifeNews. “The amendments essentially added language that would allow for late term abortions when a doctor determines that the pregnancy is “medically futile,” meaning that the unborn child has a “congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with life.” The phrase “incompatible with life” is not defined in the legislation, leaving that determination up to the doctor’s discretion in each case. Under the legislation, the lives of unborn children with severe disabilities would receive no protection.”
Groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood made defeat of this legislation a priority and were pouring money into Georgia to make it happen. But 49% of late-term abortions in Georgia are performed on women who come from other states. If this bill failed, pro-life groups worried Georgia will be known as the “late term abortion capitol of the South.”
The bill was thoroughly debated and vetted in the House (6 hours of committee testimony and two hours of floor debate) and it passed the House with 57% of the members, including Democrats and Republicans, voting yes. Six other states have approved exactly the same bill.
Nebraska, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma have already approved similar bills and other states are considering them.
The model Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, drafted by the National Right to Life Committee’s state legislation department, protects the life of the unborn child at the point that they are capable of feeling pain except when the mother “has a condition which so complicates her medical condition as to necessitate the abortion of her pregnancy to avert death or to avert serious risk of substantial or irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function or…it is necessary to preserve the life of an unborn child.”
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The legislation has also been introduced in Congress with the intent to protect unborn children in the District of Columbia who are able to feel pain during an abortion.
“Medical science has changed over the last forty years,” says NRLC legislative attorney Mary Spaulding Balch. “Accordingly, elected officials across the country are looking at new medical advances and recognizing that our laws need to step into the future as we continue to learn more about the development of the unborn child.”
The most recent survey estimated that 1.5% of the 1.2 million annual abortions in the United States are performed on children at 19 weeks after fertilization, or older. That amounts to more than 18,000 abortions annually.
The science behind the concept of fetal pain is fully established and Dr. Steven Zielinski, an internal medicine physician from Oregon, is one of the leading researchers into it. He first published reports in the 1980s to validate research showing evidence for it.
He has testified before Congress that an unborn child could feel pain at “eight-and-a-half weeks and possibly earlier” and that a baby before birth “under the right circumstances, is capable of crying.”
He and his colleagues Dr. Vincent J. Collins and Thomas J. Marzen were the top researchers to point to fetal pain decades ago. Collins, before his death, was Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois and author of Principles of Anesthesiology, one of the leading medical texts on the control of pain.
“The functioning neurological structures necessary to suffer pain are developed early in a child’s development in the womb,” they wrote.
“Functioning neurological structures necessary for pain sensation are in place as early as 8 weeks, but certainly by 13 1/2 weeks of gestation. Sensory nerves, including nociceptors, reach the skin of the fetus before the 9th week of gestation. The first detectable brain activity occurs in the thalamus between the 8th and 10th weeks. The movement of electrical impulses through the neural fibers and spinal column takes place between 8 and 9 weeks gestation. By 13 1/2 weeks, the entire sensory nervous system functions as a whole in all parts of the body,” they continued.
With Zielinski and his colleagues the first to provide the scientific basis for the concept of fetal pain, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center has provided further research to substantiate their work
“The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies,” explains Steven Calvin, M.D., perinatologist, chair of the Program in Human Rights Medicine, University of Minnesota, where he teaches obstetrics.