The Arkansas state House on Monday voted to approve a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the science showing unborn children feel pain at that point.
The measure would make the Natural State the eighth state to enact such a 20-week abortion ban on the basis of substantial medical evidence that demonstrates that unborn children are capable of feeling pain at least from 20 weeks from fertilization. lawmakers voted for the measure 75-20, according to a report.
Abortion restrictions are easily winning legislative support in Arkansas this year after Republicans won control of the House and Senate in November.
The House-approved measures now go to the Senate, which on Thursday voted to prohibit most abortions if a heartbeat is detected. That measure would be the most stringent ban in the U.S., prohibiting abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said he’s still looking at the House-backed restrictions but that his office’s research suggests the “heartbeat” bill is unconstitutional. Opponents say it will invite lawsuits.
“Obviously, we don’t want to pass unconstitutional laws and end up in court costing taxpayers tons of money,” said Beebe, who stopped short of saying that he opposes the legislation.
“If our constituents cannot trust us, their elected representatives, to defend the most basic and essential of human rights, that of life, how can they possibly trust us to have the wisdom and discernment to make appropriate decisions regarding all of the other daily issues that face us?” Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, told lawmakers before they approved his legislation.
The other measure approved Monday would allow insurers participating in the health insurance exchange to cover abortions only in the case of rape or incest or to spare the life of the mother. The House approved it on a 77-15 vote.
Twenty-four Democrats and the House’s sole Green Party member joined with 50 Republicans to support the 20-week ban, while 26 Democrats and the Green Party member supported the insurance exchange ban. Republicans hold 51 of 100 House seats.
The measures both head to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, has talked about such bills in other states.
“Medical science has changed over the last forty years,” she said. “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.
Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma have passed such legislation.
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.”
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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.