Iowa Panel Clears Bill Banning Abortions After 20 Weeks

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 17, 2011   |   4:45PM   |   Des Moines, IA

An Iowa state House subcommittee passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the bill still faces an uncertain future in part because of “pro-life” lawmakers.

The legislation would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the scientific evidence that unborn children feel intense pain. A subcommittee of the House Government Oversight Committee approved the bill today and the full committee is expected to debate it next week.

The vote came one day after pro-life advocates gathered at the state house — with representatives of several groups coming together to say the state legislature needs to get its act together to advance pro-life legislation.

Rep. Chris Hagenow, a Windsor Heights Republican sponsoring the bill, told AP after the vote that legislators have been working for weeks on the bill to ensure that it doesn’t run into any constitutional issues should abortion advocates take it to court. However, in Nebraska, the first state to pass a fetal pain-based abortion ban, pro-abortion groups have not filed a lawsuit against it.

Despite approval in the subcommittee, the bill’s fate may be lost in the full committee and unborn children may not be protected because three legislators who say they are pro-life oppose the bill because it does not ban all abortions — even though such a ban would not hold up in court and would never save a single unborn child until the Supreme Court is moved away from its current 5-4 pro-abortion majority. Reps. Tom Shaw of Laurens, Glen Massie of Des Moines and Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill said in a statement that they would oppose the measure.

Some legislative observers have suggested an amendment could be added to the bill to ban abortions to get it out of committee and then have it removed on the House floor to give the late-term abortion ban a chance to move through the legislative process.

In an interview with The Gazette, Hagenow acknowledged the trio “is committed to their position,” but believes HF 5 will pass through the committee without any major changes.

“It’s hard to predict who’s going to file what amendment,” he said. “It is my anticipation that the bill will look very similar to what it does now once it comes to final passage.”

The bill is designed in part to prevent late-term abortion practitioner Leroy Carhart from moving his abortion business from the Omaha, Nebraska area to Iowa, as he has considered. After the Nebraska bill passed, he was forced to start working part-time for an abortion business in Maryland where he can do the late abortions he had been doing in Nebraska.

“We’re doing as much as we can do to prevent him from coming to Iowa,” Hagenow said.

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.