Iowa House Passes Fetal Pain-Based Abortion Ban

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 1, 2011   |   12:03PM   |   Des Moines, IA

The Iowa state House on Thursday passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on significant scientific evidence showing unborn children feel pain during an abortion.

A subcommittee of the House Government Oversight Committee approved the bill earlier this month and House File 657 passed on a 60-39 vote that was largely along party lines.

“We have talked much in this chamber in recent weeks about the well-being of the care of animals in Iowa from doves to livestock,” said Republican Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa said during the debate, according to the Des Moines Register. “I would certainly hope that protecting the well-being of a 20-week-old unborn child and shielding it from the agony and painful death of an abortion would be at least as important topic of conversation.”

Democrats opposed the bill and claimed unborn children live in a sleep-like state of unconsciuosness that makes it so they don’t experience pain in the womb. Others said they opposed the bill because it would place limits on late abortions.

Rep. Walt Rogers, a Republican, also supported the bill and said he converted to the pro-life position after his wife was pregnancy and he felt his baby kick and move.

“It was the coolest moment in my life to feel my child inside my wife’s stomach,” Rogers said.

The bill now heads to the state Senate, where the Register says Sen. Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, a Democrat, has promised to allow the bill to move through the committee process. If senators pass the legislation, it will go to pro-life Gov. Terry Branstad, who has promised to sign the measure into law.

Rep. Chris Hagenow, a Windsor Heights Republican sponsoring the bill, says 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. In Nebraska, the first state to pass a fetal pain-based abortion ban, pro-abortion groups have not filed a lawsuit against it.

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.

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.