Oregon Legislature Holding Hearing on Fetal Pain Abortion Ban

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 6, 2011   |   1:36PM   |   Salem, OR

Representative Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg) held a press conference today announcing the House Judiciary Committee hearing of a bill that would ban abortion in Oregon after the fifth month of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother. 

HB 3512, which is based on recent scientific studies that have shown that unborn infants begin to feel pain no later than five months into a pregnancy, would be enforced through the use of civil penalties. Similar bills are getting consideration in at least twelve other state legislatures this year and are based on a 2010 Nebraska law.  The Nebraska law has not faced any legal challenges and similar bills in Idaho and Kansas are about to become law.

“This is a common sense piece of legislation that I hope will attract bi-partisan support,” said Representative Freeman, the chief sponsor of the bill.  “We are simply saying that once a baby can feel pain, the state of Oregon has a legitimate interest in protecting that baby’s life.”

On average in Oregon, over 250 abortions are performed every year after the fifth month of pregnancy.  The surgical method of Dilation and Evacuation is the primary procedure used for these abortions and, in it, forceps are used to tear off the arms and legs of the infant en utero. The child then bleeds to death as he or she is removed in pieces from the cervix and the unborn children victimized frequently attempt to move away from the forceps during the procedure.

Gayle Atteberry, Executive Director of Oregon Right to Life, strongly supports the bill and told LifeNews.com, “We are proud to support Representative Freeman’s bill that would protect the rights of the baby from this painful procedure as well as protecting mothers from all the emotional pain that follows a late term abortion.  This commonsense legislation also provides an exception to save any mother whose life is in danger.”

The bill also has the support of legal and medical experts, with Richard Thorne, M.D., of St. James Healthcare Emergency Services saying, “You don’t have to be a doctor to see that Dilation and Evacuation is a barbaric, painful way to die.  It’s time that we stopped treating five month old preborn babies worse than we treat animals.”

Teresa Collett, J.D., a professor of law at University of St. Thomas, added, “It is clear from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart that this type of law is a constitutional piece of legislation that legitimately protects the lives of the citizens of Oregon.” [related]

Meanwhile, Dan and Jeannine Eisenbacher of Salem, Oregon, also support the legislation after facing a difficult medical situation.

“We received a terrible fetal diagnosis late in our pregnancy and made the difficult decision to continue to have our daughter knowing she would die soon after birth.  The peace of being able to hold her for only a few short days before her death has given us certain knowledge that this policy is the only peaceful way to allow babies to die,” the couple 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 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.

ACTION: Contact the Oregon Legislature at https://www.leg.state.or.us to ask lawmakers to support the bill.