Members of Congress at a hearing in the U.S. House today were told about how the nation’s capital allows abortions all the way until birth. They were informed that one abortion facility in the District of Columbia openly advertises abortions at seven months into pregnancy, paid for via cash or credit card.
No more than five nations in the world have a legal policy that is this extreme, three doctors told members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution. They supported the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 3803), that would protect unborn children in the District after they have reached 20 weeks fetal age.
The reason that abortion is legal to the moment of birth in the federal capital is that a body known as the “District Council,” which operates on authority delegated by Congress, completely repealed the local abortion law. But the responsibility for changing that rests entirely with the Congress — and the President. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress shall “exercise exclusive jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever, over such District…”
Not far from the White House, an abortion clinic sells abortions on request (credit cards or cash only) up to 24 weeks fetal age (which is 26 weeks in the “LMP” OBGYN dating system, counting from the last menstrual period, about the beginning of the sixth month), by the “D&E” dismemberment method, which involves tearing off the baby’s arms and legs by brute force.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician-gynecologist who at one time performed many D&E abortions but who now opposes abortion, testified about the abortions done in D.C.
H.R. 3803 was introduced by Congressman Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, who is also the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution. The bill is based on legislation the National Right to Life Committee drafted in 2010 and already enacted in six states. In the bill, Congress adopts “findings” (declarations of fact) that by 20 weeks after fertilization (if not earlier), the unborn child has the capacity to experience great pain. The bill then prohibits abortion after that point, except when an acute physical condition endangers the life of the mother.
Dr. Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist from Northwestern University, testified about the pain perception capacities of babies who are born very prematurely. And Dr. Byron Calhoun, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at West Virginia University specializing in maternal and fetal medicine, testified regarding humane medical approaches to cases in which an unborn child is diagnosed with a genetic disorder or other serious medical condition.
Christy Zink of Washington, D.C., who had an abortion after learning that her unborn son had a malformed brain, testified for Democrats opposing the bill.
“Many states are moving to protect pain-capable unborn children, with Georgia joining the list just this month,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “But with respect to the nation’s capital, which the Constitution makes an exclusively federal jurisdiction, it is Congress that has the immediate responsibility to act. Any lawmaker who votes against this bill is voting to ratify the current District policy, under which abortion is legal without limitation to the moment of birth.”
“The Constitution makes it crystal clear that the responsibility rests solely with Congress, and with the President,” Johnson said.
Johnson added, “This legislation is NRLC’s top congressional priority for 2012. NRLC does not regard its House scorecard for the 112th Congress as complete until the House has voted on this bill — but lawmakers can vote early by cosponsoring the bill, and 194 have already done so. A vote against H.R. 3803 will be scored by NRLC as a vote to ratify a policy of unlimited legal abortion until the moment of birth in the nation’s capital.”
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), delegate to the House for the District of Columbia, issued a press release complaining that she was not allowed to testify at today’s hearing.
Johnson commented: “The Democrats on the committee could have invited anybody they wanted to fill their witness slot. The Democrats apparently decided Norton was not their strongest witness, so they invited somebody else, and then issued complaints that Norton was excluded — just another phony controversy, manufactured for Rachel Maddow and the blogosphere.”
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 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.
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“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.
The full House Judiciary Committee will hold a voting session, or “markup,” on the bill on a future date that has not yet been announced.