Iowa Abortion-Fetal Pain Bill Advances, Now Faces Hurdles

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 8, 2011   |   1:29PM   |   Des Moines, IA

A bill in the Iowa legislature to protect unborn children, supported by several pro-life groups, passed one hurdle but now faces another in order to continue moving forward.

The legislation would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the scientific evidence that unborn children feel intense pain.

Yesterday, a state House subcommittee approved the bill after a nearly hour-long hearing Monday afternoon. Representative Mark Brandenberg, a Republican from Council Bluffs, talked in support of the measure, which came about in part because of Omaha, Nebraska-based late-term abortion practitioner Leroy Carhart. Nebraska lawmakers approved a similar bill and Carhart started looking at Iowa as a potential place to relocate his abortion business.

“I believe that there’s overwhelming support in Council Bluffs for this bill…because of Dr. Carhart,” Brandenberg says, “and so I support the bill.”

Radio Iowa indicated Norm Pawlewski of Iowa Right to Life agreed that Carhart’s potential relocation to Iowa makes passing the bill a priority.

“We’re talking not about six, or seven, or 10, or 20, we’re talking about hundreds (of late-term abortions) and that’s what we have a concern for,” Pawlewski told legislators. “We need to relieve the people of Council Bluffs from having this blemish on their community.”

During the hearing, Kyle Carlson, legal director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, opposed the bill. But, the concern for pro-life advocate supporting the abortion-fetal pain measure are the “pro-life” lawmakers in the full committee who are opposing the bill.

When Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley and a board member of Iowa Right to Life who is the sponsor of the bill, introduced House File 5, the expectation was that abortion advocates would kill the legislation after the House sent the bill to the state Senate. But the Iowa Republican blog indicates supportive lawmakers don’t have the necessary votes to get the measure out of the Human Resources committee.

With 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats on the panel, the legislation was expected to be reported to the House floor following a committee hearing, but two Republican legislators on the panel, Rep. Kim Pearson and Glenn Massie, are opposed to the bill. They say they want to see a full ban on abortions — even though such legislation would not be approved by the legislature and would certainly be overturned in court, failing to save the lives of any unborn children.

Pawlewski told the IR blog about the problems early last month.

“If we could have gotten solid support from Pearson and Massie, we could probably have the bill out of subcommittee this week and on the floor next week.  Right now, without one of their votes, the bill is dead in the Human Resources committee,” he said.

Commenting on his bill, Windschitl said it is important to at least protect unborn children late in pregnancy.

“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?”

“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.

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 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.”

He and his colleagues Dr. Vincent J. Collins and Thomas J. Marzen  were the first 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.