A House Committee will vote Tuesday on a bill 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.
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 and 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.
Currently, in the District of Columbia, abortion is legal for any reason, until the very moment of birth.
According to officials with National Right to Life, 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.
“In the nation’s capital, abortion is now legal, for any reason, until the moment of birth,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “The District Council, employing authority delegated by Congress, repealed the entire abortion law. Members of Congress, and the President, are ultimately accountable for this extreme policy, because the Constitution says that Congress shall “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District . . .’ A vote against this bill amounts to a vote to ratify the current policy of legal abortion, for any reason, until the moment of birth.”
During a committee hearing earlier this year, the committee heard compelling scientific evidence that demonstrates that by 20 weeks (if not earlier), the unborn child experiences excruciating pain when being dismembered by brute force in a “D&E” abortion.
Reluctant to support even modest limits on abortion, NARAL and the National Abortion Federation have urged their members to contact Congress to urge opposition to the bill.
“Pro-abortion groups are moving aggressively to oppose the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act (H.R. 3803) — a bill that pro-abortion Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said “has the potential to eviscerate the entire Roe framework,” referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand,” NRLC said. “Very likely, the pro-abortion groups will urge pro-abortion members of the House — most of whom are Democrats — to use delaying tactics against the bill, in the hope of “running out the clock.” Congress goes into recess from August 3 until after Labor Day.”
NRLC is countering, saying a vote against this bill is a vote to allow babies to continue to be aborted, in terrible pain, for any reason, right up until the moment of birth.
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. Expert testimony was presented at a May 17 hearing on the bill showing that at 20 weeks fetal age, 6 percent of infants born spontaneously now survive long term in good neo-natal units. The long-term survival rates are 26% at 21 weeks fetal age and 55% at 22 weeks fetal age. (To convert to the alternate “LMP” dating system, add two weeks to each figure.)
It currently has 210 House cosponsors. Identical legislation (S. 2103), introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), currently has 30 cosponsors.
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.
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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.