Alabama Senate Passes Fetal Pain-Based Abortion Ban

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 9, 2011   |   5:55PM   |   Montgomery, AL

The Alabama state Senate followed the state House in passing 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.

Senators voted 26-5 to pass the measure, which also requires abortion practitioners to give information about the abortions they do to the state health department so it can compile a more accurate data set about the abortions that take place in Alabama annually. The House has until midnight tonight to concur with the small changes made by the Senate.

“For a long time the womb was an unknown universe, and I think Roe vs. Wade was based on the idea that so much was not known,” said Sen. Scott Beason, a Republican, according to the Anniston Star.

“Alabama will be the leader on pro-life issues,” added Sen. Phil Williams, a supporter of the bill.

The state Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Roger Smitherman, a Democrat, which would have allowed the late abortions in cases of rape or incest and Sen. Vivian Figures, another Democrat, said she voted against the bill because the exceptions were not included.

“Alabama is the latest in a line of states poised to protect unborn children capable of feeling pain,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which wrote the model bill. “State legislatures are stepping up to protect these children, thus reflecting the majority wishes of their constituents.”

The model Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, drafted by the National Right to Life Committee’s state legislation department, protects the life of the unborn child at the point that they are capable of feeling pain except when the mother “has a condition which so complicates her medical condition as to necessitate the abortion of her pregnancy to avert death or to avert serious risk of substantial or irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function or…it is necessary to preserve the life of an unborn child.”

“We are calling on the Alabama House of Representatives, which already passed the bill, to quickly concur with the Senate version before tonight’s midnight legislative deadline,” said Cheryl Ciamarra, Alabama Citizens for Life national director.

This continued trend in the states during the spring legislative session began in Nebraska last year when they passed this first-of-its-kind legislation. Already this year, the legislation has been passed in Idaho, Kansas and Oklahoma.  In addition to Alabama, the National Right to Life model Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is currently under consideration in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.

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

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.

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.