On Tuesday, North Dakota’s governor signed a bill into law banning abortions after 20 weeks, when an unborn baby begins to feel pain. This comes just one month after he signed landmark pro-life legislation making it the first state to prohibit both sex-selection abortions and abortions for genetic abnormalities.
“We were very pleased he signed it, and that the North Dakota Legislature has passed a number of bills protecting the most vulnerable,” Tom Freier, president of the North Dakota Family Alliance, said after the governor signed the bill. “Over the course of several years, we’ve worked hard to put in place legislation that reflects North Dakota people’s view of life.”
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.
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.
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“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.