Iowa Committee Holds Hearing on Abortion-Fetal Pain Bill

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 18, 2011   |   5:48PM   |   Des Moines, IA

A legislative committee in the Iowa House held a hearing today on a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the notion that unborn children feel intense pain.

House File 5 would put in place a law similar to a bill approved in Nebraska that banned abortions for such reasons and was ultimately responsible for forcing late-term abortion practitioner Leroy Carhart to move much of his abortion business to Maryland, where he is now doing late abortions.

The Iowa state health department shows 9 abortions done after 20 weeks of pregnancy during 2009 and information for 2010 is not yet available.

Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley and a board member of Iowa Right to Life who is the sponsor of the bill, presented it to the House Human Resources Committee sub-panel.

“This bill goes beyond the stem of viability. We’re not talking about viability in this bill. We’re talking about fetal pain,” he said, according to the Des Moines Register. “We’re talking about dismembering a child in the womb. If that child can feel pain, is it not the states’s right, and do we not have a responsibility to protect that child?”

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell of Ames was the leading critic of the measure in committee and she said she didn’t like some supporters of the bill referring to late-term abortions when the bill prohibits abortions at 20 weeks into pregnancy, which she termed midway through it.

“I think when we get a little further into definitions we will also find that it’s not here to protect a woman’s health,” Wessel-Kroeschell claimed.

She claimed the science behind the concept of fetal pain has not yet been established.

However, Dr. Steven Zielinski, an internal medicine physician from Oregon, is one of the leading researchers into the concept of fetal pain and published the first reports in the 1980s to validate research show 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.”

Dr. Vincent J. Collins, Zielinski and attorney 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 bill is expected to pass in the House, but the Iowa state Senate is another concern where Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, a Democrat, said his party would evaluate the bill should the House approve it. He would not commit yet to bringing it up for a debate and vote.

“We don’t want Iowa to become the late-term-abortion capital of the United States,” Windschitl said previously about his bill. “It will be similar to Nebraska’s law. I’m still deciding on what is the best piece of legislation possible that will hold up in the courts. I’m taking on the fight of Dr. LeRoy Carhart to keep him out of my state.”

Gov.-elect Terry Branstad has already indicated he would sign the legislation.

Meanwhile, the bishop of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese is urging Catholics to stand up against Carhart and be a “cascading voice of opposition” to his plans.

Bishop Richard Pates says Carhart is trying to set up a “terminal enterprise to kill unborn children.”

“Either the individual who is in the mother’s womb will be viable and come to a fullness of life or if they go through with it with the individual like this Carhart, the individual’s life will end,” Pates says. “So I think it’s pretty clear that it’s a matter of life or death.”

“There’s a growing number of people who regard abortion as something that they really don’t want to see transpire because they really do regard it as a matter of life or death,” the bishop said during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa late last year.

The Council Bluffs City Council already voted to ensure Carhart can’t set up shop at one parcel of land the city recently sold.