Iowa Senate Action Expected Soon on Abortion-Fetal Pain Bill

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 2, 2011   |   4:40PM   |   Des Moines, IA

The Iowa state House, in April passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on significant scientific evidence showing unborn children feel pain during an abortion. Lawmakers in the state Senate want to follow suit.

UltrasoundHowever, because they are not getting a vote on the bill, pro-life state senators are set to employ a political maneuver that will send the stalled legislation to the floor for debate next week. Senators plan to file a petition signed by the majority of members that will force a floor debate on HF 657 on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The legislation, which would ban late-term abortions after 20 weeks when pre-born babies can feel pain, passed easily in the House in March then stalled out in the Democrat-controlled Senate Government Oversight Committee, which says it has no intention moving on the bill.

The action to bypass the committee and move the bill to the floor took place one day after Iowa Right to Life and Operation Rescue held a joint press conference at the Iowa Capitol, and two days after a local paper took the Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal to task for blocking progress on the Fetal Pain bill.

Late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart has announced plans to open a late-term abortion clinic in Council Bluffs, Iowa eventually and the community, including the mayor and even the local liberal newspaper, oppose the idea. Gronstal represents Council Bluffs and is fielding a flood of criticism from his home district where many are accusing him of ignoring the interests of his constituents, according to Operation Rescue.

“There is a real sense of urgency with this Iowa Fetal Pain bill because so many lives are at stake,” said Cheryl Sullenger, Senior Policy Advisor for Operation Rescue who spoke in Des Moines on Wednesday for a press conference in support of the bill. “The overwhelming majority of the people in the community don’t want a late-term abortion clinic, the mayor doesn’t want it, the Iowa House doesn’t want it, and the governor of Iowa doesn’t want it and has promised to sign the bill if passed.”

“Now we need to let these Senators know that the nation is watching them,” Sullenger added. “Iowa needs to stand up, represent the will of the vast majority of citizens, and pass protections for women and their pre-born babies that can feel the pain of abortion. Waiting until next year on this urgent bill could be too late. The last thing Iowa needs or wants is to become the Late-term Abortion Capital.”

“To do nothing on this bill is to place a stamp of approval on heinous late-term abortions and knowingly place women at risk from this dangerous procedure that has cost the lives of women, including Christin Gilbert, who died from a botched third-trimester abortion done by LeRoy Carhart in 2005,” she added.

In the House, House File 657 passed on a 60-39 vote that was largely along party lines. If senators pass the legislation, it will go to pro-life Gov. Terry Branstad, who has promised to sign the measure into law.

“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.

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.

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.