Alabama Committee Holds Hearing on Fetal Pain-Abortion Bill

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 24, 2011   |   11:57AM   |   Montgomery, AL

An Alabama state House committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy because scientific evidence from several peer-reviewed studies shows unborn children feel pain.

UltrasoundWith Republicans controlling the state legislature, pro-life advocates have a chance to pass pro-life bills that would begin making progress in lowering the number of abortions in the state. That was the question Cheryl Ciamarra, the director of Alabama Citizens for Life, asked lawmakers.

“Does this committee desire to protect innocent human preborn babies lives after 20 weeks post fertilization when they are medically and scientifically proven to feel pain?” she asked.

Ciamarra told she gave members of the House Health Committee a 26- page annotated report of the medical and scientific evidence the eleven separate points summarizing that unborn children can feel pain by 20 weeks after fertilization. The bill is HB 18, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act of Alabama.

Sue Turner, the director of Physicians for Life, brought an anatomically accurate model of an 18 week old unborn child to the hearing. Ciamarra said members appeared surprised at the actual size of the baby and its detailed development.

“Anesthesia is now routinely given to babies during “in utero” surgery that has become commonplace with medical science treating both the mother and the child,” Turner said.

Rick Harris, a former Alabama Department of Health worker, appealed to the inhumanity of tearing a baby limb from limb in excruciating pain that is over half way through development and possibly capable of surviving an induced delivery. Describing the most common D and X abortion procedure used at 20 weeks and beyond, he said, “You couldn’t legally do that to a dog in Alabama.”

The ACLU, a pro-abortion legal group, spoke against the bill and its representative questioned the constitutionality of limiting abortions after 20 weeks. Barbara Buchanan, a vice president of Planned Parenthood, also testified against the measure.

Rep. Kerry Rich, the sponsor of the measure, explained that this  bill has been signed into Nebraska law since last year without challenge and noted that similar bills have been approved in Idaho and Kansas.

Don Williamson, the current health department director, informed legislators 79 abortions were done in Alabama on babies after 20 weeks of pregnancy in 2009, though the health department also lists no age for another 49 abortions between 2007 and 2009.

“This fact illustrates that the current regulations are being ignored due to lack of consequences,” Ciamarra said. “This legislation requires the age of every baby aborted to be determined with specific reporting requirements and fines for failure to report. When the Alabama Legislature requires accurate reporting it will guarantee the laws banning late term abortions on post viable babies are being followed.”

Pro-life advocates were disappointed that committee chairman James McClendon, a conservative Republican, did not call for a vote on the bill. The Montgomery Advertiser reported he is seeking compromise on the legislation and said he doesn’t want the panel to vote until pro-life and pro-abortion groups can find a middle ground.

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.

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.