First Ruling Upholding Fetal-Pain Abortion Ban a Pro-Life Milestone

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 31, 2012   |   11:06AM   |   Washington, DC

That the first court to consider and uphold a ban on abortions based on the scientific evidence showing unborn children have the capacity to feel pain before birth comes just one day before the House will vote on a bill to ban abortions in D.C. on that reason is not lost on pro-life advocates.

Yesterday, as LifeNews reported, a federal judge in Arizona issued a ruling upholding that state’s new law that goes into effect on Thursday and bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. With the House voting today, to overturn the current policy in the District of Columbia of allowing legal abortion, for any reason, until the moment of birth, the judge upheld the law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (18 weeks fetal age), based primarily on “the substantial and well-documented evidence that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least twenty weeks gestational age.”

Douglas Johnson, the legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said the ruling is an important first for the pro-life movement.

“This is the first federal court ruling to uphold a general prohibition on all methods of abortion, after a defined point in development, based on the capacity of the unborn child to experience pain,” he told LifeNews.

Judge Teilborg specifically found that “by 20 weeks, sensory receptors develop all over the child’s body” and “when provoked by painful stimuli, such as a needle, the child reacts, as measured by increases in the child’s stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure.” Teilborg quoted a U.S. Supreme Court decision describing the D&E method of abortion used at this age:  “[F]riction causes the fetus to tear apart. For example, a leg might be ripped off the fetus . . .”  He described another method also used: “In an induction procedure, the fetus is injected with a medication that induces a heart attack.’”

Judge Teilborg continued, “Given the nature of D&Es and induction abortions, . . . this Court concludes that the State has shown a legitimate interest in limiting abortions past 20 weeks gestational age.”

“This recognition by a federal court that a general prohibition on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional, based chiefly on ‘substantial and well-documented evidence that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion,’ makes it even more indefensible for any House member to vote to continue the current policy of  legal abortion for any reason until the moment of birth in our nation’s capital,” said Johnson.

Johnson said that, in the bill, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 3803), Congress adopts findings that by 22 weeks of pregnancy (20 weeks after fertilization), the unborn child has the capacity to experience great pain. That finding is two weeks later than the line established in the Arizona law upheld yesterday. The bill prohibits abortion after that point, except when an acute physical condition endangers the life of the mother.

Seven states have already enacted legislation very similar to H.R. 3803 (Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana); no court orders have blocked enforcement of any of those laws.

“This roll call will be a landmark – the House has never before voted on the question of whether to endorse legal abortion for any reason until birth,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.  “Under the Constitution, members of Congress and the President are ultimately accountable for the current abortion-until-birth policy.  Any lawmaker who votes against this bill is voting to ratify the extreme policy currently in effect in the nation’s capital, where abortion is perfectly legal for any reason until the moment of birth.”



“If we can achieve a big majority on this groundbreaking initial vote, it will lay the foundation to achieve legal protection for pain-capable unborn babies in the not-distant future,” Johnson said.

The NRLC website provides links to abundant documentation on the scientific authorities that support the bill’s findings that unborn children, by 20 weeks fetal age if not before, have the capacity to experience great pain.  The group also includes a compilation of citations to medical journal articles on the subject.