The South Carolina legislature is the latest state to consider a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks based on scientific evidence showing unborn children feel pain. Currently the state allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the life of the mother is at risk.
A local report focuses on the measure, which has been approved in other states and is pending in Congress.
“As a mother of five, I understand wanting to protect my children from pain,” said Rep. Wendy K. Nanney, R-Greenville, the sponsor of the bill, H.B. 4223. “That’s what a mother does.”
The bill has more than 30 sponsors.
A House subcommittee opted to hear more testimony when the committee meets again. A date has not yet been scheduled. Committee members said that when they reconvene, they expect the bill to advance.
Anti-abortion advocates said the bill – along with similar measures in other states – is an effort to chip away at the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that deemed abortion a fundamental right.
Nanney said in an interview that new science about pregnancy is changing the legal and healthcare landscape.
“I think we’re realizing that a body can feel pain in the womb,” she said. “It will somewhat change Roe v. Wade down the road, I hope.”
Mary Spaulding Balch, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director, testified Thursday, and read opinions from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s key swing vote.
She said that recent opinions on abortion issues suggest an opening. Balch, a lawyer, said that she believes that there is a state’s rights legal argument when it comes to abortion that she and others hope to advance. “The state would have more room to protect the unborn child,” Balch said. “If we were to get this case in the Supreme Court I think we would have five votes.”
A National Right to Life Committee poll found that 63 percent of Americans, and 70 percent of women, support a ban on post-fetal pain abortion in Washington, D.C. The same poll also found that American women, by an overwhelming majority of 62-27 percent, would be more likely to vote for lawmakers who support this 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.