The North Dakota state Senate on Monday approved two pro-life bills – including one that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Senators voted 30-17 to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on scientific information showing unborn children feel pain at least at that point in pregnancy.
The chamber also approved SB 2303 which “ensures that the protection that our criminal laws afford to victims of crimes extends to all human beings born and unborn.” SB 2303 has the effect of recognizing when life begins and protecting that life at all stages and says “Human being” means an individual member of the species homo sapiens at every stage of development.”
Previously the chamber approved SCR 4009, which states “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected,” a personhood amendment banning abortions that will not likely stand up in court.
The personhood amendment probably would not ban abortions and would perhaps give a pro-abortion dominated Supreme Court or lower courts a chance to reaffirm the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed virtually unlimited abortions in 1973.
Some pro-life groups oppose the amendment because they say it will head to the Supreme Court, which will strike it down and add to the pro-Roe v. Wade case law upholding unlimited abortions. Knowing that, they say a better strategy is supporting pro-life Senate candidates and replacing pro-abortion President Barack Obama — paving the way for new Supreme Court justices who could overturn Roe or uphold such an amendment.
On the other hand, the fetal pain-based abortion ban has significant support.
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.”
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.
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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.