Alabama Senate Committee Backs Fetal Pain-Based Abortion Ban

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 5, 2011   |   11:38AM   |   Montgomery, AL

An Alabama state Senate committee has backed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which protects unborn children capable of feeling pain. The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy as a result.

The vote comes after the full Alabama state House voted 69-19 in April for the bill, which continues a trend sweeping through the state legislatures this legislative session as both houses of the legislatures of Kansas, Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma have voted in favor of enacting similar legislation and other states are following on their heels.

As drafted by National Right to Life’s state legislation department, the bill protects from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain. The Senate Health Committee passed HB 18, sponsored by Rep. Kerry Rich, and now the measure goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Those supporting were: Sen. Greg Reed, Sen. Paul Bussman, Sen. Slade Blackwell, Sen. Gerald Dial, Sen. Del Marsh, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, Sen. Jabo Waggoner, Sen. Cam Ward, Sen. Tom Whatley.

Cheryl Ciamarra, of Alabama Citizens for Life, told after the vote that Rich “has worked tirelessly on this effort” and the bill has the “support of Sen. Scott Beason.”

“We are very hopeful, that the full Alabama Senate will agree with the Alabama House Representatives to pass HB18 to limit abortions after the period of time babies are proven to experience pain,” she said.

Bill Klein, president of Alabama Citizens for Life, said he appreciated the support of the Knights of Columbus, saying, “We really appreciate their taking time to come stand with us for life, as we know many councils and assemblies are very busy with disaster relief across the state due to the recent tornado destruction.”

In 2010 Nebraska passed the first bill to protect unborn babies capable of experiencing pain from abortion, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception.

“Alabama is the latest in a line of states poised to protect unborn children capable of feeling pain,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, an attorney who is the director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee. “State legislatures are stepping up to protect these children, thus reflecting the majority wishes of their constituents.”

“We are pleased with the progress we have been making in the states,” Balch told LifeNews. “We are working to ensure that pain-capable unborn children all across the country will be protected from horrendous death by abortion.”

Rick Harris, a former Alabama Department of Health worker, appeared at the House committee hearing for the bill and 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.

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.”

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.