The Arizona state Senate has approved a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the scientific evidence showing unborn children feel pain at least at that point in development, if not sooner.
The vote was 20 to 10, with one Republican joining Democrats in opposition and the legislation now heads to the Arizona state House.
Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, is the main sponsor of HB 2036 and she cited testimony of a doctor who said that a 20-week fetus has sensory receptors all over its body. She also said there is evidence that the later along a pregnancy, the greater the chance of complications for the mother.
But Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Phoenix claimed the information is not correct and the bill was merely an attempt to make it more difficult for women to get abortions.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, detailed what happens at different stages of fetal development and said, “This debate is about life and it’s about a small, tiny, little life form that has no voice to speak for itself.”
Nebraska, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma have already approved similar bills and other states are considering them.
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.”
The legislation has also been introduced in Congress with the intent to protect unborn children in the District of Columbia who are able to feel pain during an abortion.
“Medical science has changed over the last forty years,” says NRLC legislative attorney Mary Spaulding Balch “Accordingly, elected officials across the country are looking at new medical advances and recognizing that our laws need to step into the future as we continue to learn more about the development of the unborn child.”
The most recent survey estimated that 1.5% of the 1.2 million annual abortions in the United States are performed on children at 19 weeks after fertilization, or older. That amounts to more than 18,000 abortions annually.
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.