Congress to Hear Bill Banning Abortions at 20 Weeks in DC

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 9, 2012   |   6:22PM   |   Washington, DC

A U.S. House committee will hold a hearing next week on new legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia based on scientific evidence showing unborn children feel pain.

Arizona Republican Congressman Trent Franks introduced the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He told The Hill today that the Judiciary Subcommitee on the Constitution, which he is the chairman of, will hear testimony May 17 on the legislation.

“It is a very strong priority in the pro-life community,” said Franks.

The bill is similar to a first-in-the-nation law the state of Nebraska passed that successfully drove late-term abortion practitioner LeRoy Carhart to move most of his abortion business to Maryland, bans abortions at 22 weeks gestation (20 weeks post-conception) due to the scientific evidence that not only do unborn children feel pain, they feel it more acutely because pain “dampeners” do not fully develop until 40 weeks gestation, and later.

The legislation is strongly supported by the National Right to Life Committee, which says the bill would ban abortion of pain-capable unborn children within the Federal District – the district created by the U.S. Constitution for the specific purpose of serving as the seat of the national government.

“Today, in our nation’s capital, an unborn child can be killed at any point prior to birth, for any reason,” said NRLC Federal Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.

He told LifeNews, “Under the U.S. Constitution, the sole and exclusive legislative authority to protect unborn children within the Federal District resides with the Congress.  If abortion remains unrestricted in the nation’s capital, during the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth months, it will be because certain members of Congress, or the President, have obstructed this bill.  If they do that, then they alone, under the Constitution, are fully accountable for that policy.”

According to Johnson, at least two abortion providers currently are advertising that they provide abortions in the District past the point that the bill would establish protection – one to 24 weeks after fertilization, and the other during the third trimester, at least to seven and one-half months, and perhaps later

“Enactment of the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will be a top legislative priority for National Right to Life during 2012,” said Johnson.  “The capital city of the United States should not also be the capital for causing torment to unborn babies in the sixth month and later.”

“Pro-abortionists often say that limiting abortion would ‘take us backwards,’ but really, they are the ones who insist that society must remain locked in the Dark Ages of ignorance regarding the capacities of unborn children,” noted Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., National Right to Life director of state legislation.

Balch said, “Our knowledge about the capacities of the unborn child has increased by orders of magnitude since Roe v. Wade, thanks in part of 4-D ultrasound and other sophisticated imaging techniques.  Our legislation also reflects what medical science has learned about the necessity for controlling the baby’s pain during open-womb fetal surgery, and when performing painful procedures on very premature newborn infants.”

The legislation is the top priority of the pro-life group and, if the House doesn’t vote on it directly, NRLC may push members of Congress to attach it to the legislation providing funding for the District of Columbia.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a pro-abortion Democrat representing the federal district in Congress, has pledged to fight the bill.

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.