Over the past 30 years, massive changes in technology have literally transformed American society. But have ethical standards been able to keep up with scientific improvements? When it comes to pediatrics, that answer is an emphatic ‘no.’
At roughly the same time that the first connections of the Internet were being plotted, pioneers of fetal surgery (many of them at Pennsylvania’s own Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) were dreaming of the possibilities of treating birth defects while the baby is still in the womb.
Now, nearly 30 years later, technological advancements have dramatically changed our everyday lives, and the radical notion of successful pre-birth surgeries is now a reality. Additionally, these same advances are giving increased hope to parents who are shocked when their babies are born far earlier than anticipated. These massive advances in science and medical technology require us to consider some profoundly important ethical questions.
Fetal surgery takes place as early as 18 weeks gestation. Prenatal surgery to help repair spina bifida – the most common neurological birth defect – takes place between 19 and 25 weeks gestation.
It’s important to note that anesthesia is used in fetal surgeries for both mother and child. Why? Significant evidence now shows that by 20 weeks of development, unborn children have the capacity to feel pain.
We have the opportunity to protect the unborn children in this country whose lives are being ended – in many cases brutally – at an age at which these children are capable of experiencing pain. To that end, we have introduced legislation which would amend the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act to reflect the scientific advances made over the last three decades.
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The bill updates the Abortion Control Act to reflect a 20-week cut off of gestational development, rather than the 24-week limit now in place. Additionally, the bill includes language prohibiting the use of the barbaric dismemberment abortion practice, where abortions occur when a baby’s life is terminated by removing his or her limbs. Only six other countries on the planet (two of them being China and North Korea) join the United States in permitting elective abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
This legislation is necessary to protect the baby and the mother. It is indisputable that the later in pregnancy an abortion occurs, the riskier it is for the mother and the more painful it is for the unborn child.
Research shows that a woman seeking an abortion at 21 weeks or more is 91 times more likely to die from abortion than she was in the first trimester. These significant risks to maternal health should cause all of us concern.
Public opinion also supports the push to end late-term abortions. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that 60 percent support legislation limiting abortion to 20 weeks. And a Gallup poll shows that 80 percent support prohibiting third trimester abortions.
In the year 2016, hospitals are saving babies who are born at 20 weeks, while our abortion clinics are still dismembering and killing babies at that same stage. Given the fact that a baby can viably survive when born at 20 weeks, Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act should be updated to reflect this.
Science agrees, and so do the majority of Americans. Our legislation will right this wrong.