Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) introduced the bill to the House. She stated that at a fetal age of 20 weeks after fertilization:
"... a substantial body of medical evidence shows that a baby in the womb can feel pain."
There have been many statements by professional medical organizations about when a fetus is capable of feeling pain. Most say that it does not happen until the 24th week or later.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) opposed the bill, saying:
"It is always hard for me to understand why our colleagues on the other side of the aisle embrace junk science, whether it is around global warming, where 99 percent of the scientists say, yes, it is happening, or in this case. We have the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists from 2010 indicating that:
'... connections from the periphery to the cortex is not intact until 24 weeks. The cortex is necessary for pain perception.''
In 2012, ACOG, in the Journal of American Medical Association embraced that statement. So the vast majority of physicians and scientists say there is not pain perception at 20 weeks. 3
She described the experience of "Sammi," 17, who went to a crisis pregnancy center and later decided to seek an abortion. She said:
"... the center called her almost daily saying she would die, get sick, and go to Hell. The center also lied about her due date, telling Sammi it was too late for an abortion.
Rep Fortenberry (R-NE) supported the bill, saying:
"We all know pain. But pain teaches us profound lessons about suffering, sacrifice, patience, and the redemptive healing possibilities of encountering one another in our vulnerability as humans living in the interdependency of community. Pain is something from which we naturally recoil, but it also enables us to build compassion toward those who are weak, or dependent, or alone. Madam Speaker, in letting our natural impulse to respond to another who is in pain, we can grasp what it means to be truly ourselves, to be truly human, and to care deeply about everyone, and to really internalize what is at issue here."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) opposed the bill, and described the experience from Lindsey, a pregnant woman in California who found out:
"... at the 21-month [sic] anatomy scan ... that ... [their] baby girl had lethal skeletal dysplasia. Lindsey sought out additional opinions from three maternal- fetal specialists. They all agreed that her lungs were not developing properly and she would not survive. Lindsey and her husband chose to end the pregnancy at 24 weeks. Lindsey wants lawmakers to know: 'If I had to carry her to term, she would not have survived. As her mother, it is my right to spare her suffering, and that is what I did'."
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) supported the bill, saying:
"... science tells us that after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unborn babies are able to feel pain inside the womb. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act protects those who cannot protect themselves when handed a death sentence. Madam Speaker, there are currently seven countries in the world that allow elective late abortions, countries such as North Korea and China. Why in the world is the United States on a list of countries characterized as human rights abusers? Our Nation can do better than that.
I have seen how special care is given to reduce the pain of these precious premature babies at 20 weeks in the NICU. Unborn children in the womb at this stage should be protected, too, and we must pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to give these unborn children a chance to see the light of day."
Rep Katherine Clark (D-MA) opposed the bill, saying:
"... Eighteen years ago, Emilia was pregnant with her second child. She was happily married, financially secure, and eager to welcome a new baby into her family. After Emilia’s baby was diagnosed with Down syndrome, she was even more determined to raise her baby with love and compassion. Imagine her devastation when, after a 20-week ultrasound, the baby was diagnosed with fetal hydrops and a battery of tests revealed her baby would not survive to term. Emilia made a wrenching decision to terminate her pregnancy rather than have her baby suffer. Emilia’s hospital didn’t provide abortion services, so she went to [an abortion clinic in] Boston and had to pass through a wall of picketers that told her she was a murderer. In the waiting room, she realized every other patient had the same story: no one was carrying a healthy baby. Every woman there was experiencing profound loss. Under a 20-week ban, none of these moms can make a decision for their families with their doctors. We would make that decision for them in Congress."
Rep Mark Walker (R-NC), a co-sponsor/supporter of the bill, said:
"I believe that every boy and girl is conceived with God-given potential and unique talents and abilities -- abilities they will use to serve others and make a difference. Let me put it this way: I know a young man named Luke. Luke’s mother was in for a surprise when, at only 24 weeks into her pregnancy, her baby boy decided it was time to meet the world. To make a long story short, Luke worked through complications with his family, and he serves in our district office in North Carolina. Every life is an opportunity. Every life is precious."
Rep Louis Frankel (D-FL) opposed the bill, saying:
"... today I rise for Donna. This is her story: ... Her fetus stopped growing at 26 weeks. An ultrasound showed anencephaly, a fetus without a brain, a fetus that could not sustain life on its own. Madam Speaker, this 20-week abortion bill is cruel punishment for women like Donna, forcing them to face weeks of pregnant agony with no hope for the life that they so wanted. This is a bill that inflicts pain, not stops it, and I urge my colleagues to vote 'no'."
Many pages of additional comments by Representatives are available from the Congressional Record. 3
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, if H.R. 36 were enacted, the direct federal spending would increase by an amount between 65 million to 335 million during its first ten years, largely through federal support for Medicaid, as caused by the additional births.
2017-OCT-03: House passes the bill:
The bill, H.R. 36 has 182 sponsors in the House, largely from Texas, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina.
The vote was 237 to 189. 9 The bill was sent to the Senate, where its probability of passing is slim. The bill seems to be following the same path as a previous version of the bill did in 2015 where it had also been passed by the House, but failed in the Senate. It is unlikely to obtain the necessary 60 votes in the Senate this time as well. However, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List -- a major pro-life group -- expects passage. She said:
"This will be a big issue in the 2018 Senate elections." 8
She believes that many existing Senators fear being held accountable in late 2018 for their vote on this bill in early 2018.
Also, the bill has the strong support of President Trump, who would be certain to sign it into law if it is passed by the Senate.
2017-OCT-04: The bill is received by the Senate:
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
2017-OCT-05: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council spoke at a Senate news conference concerning this bill:
Tony Perkins joined a news conference to discuss the bill, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and other pro-life leaders. He said:
"This is not rocket science. A baby at five months in utero feels pain. If the child were undergoing a corrective medical procedure either outside the womb or inside the womb, the child would be given anesthesia. What is happening in America is inhumane.
"It has been mentioned that our country is in a scandalous league of nations when it comes to the treatment of unborn children. If America wants to draw distinctions between itself and rogue nations like North Korea -- this is a good place to start. The Senate should take up and pass without delay the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. I look forward to seeing the president who is committed to this, signing it into law." 6
Webmaster's comments: (bias alert)
When Tony Perkins said that a "baby at five months ... feels pain," that does not necessarily make it true. There are many scientists who disagree. I suspect that a majority of physicians who have studied fetal pain, and who are not evangelical Christians, believe that only at 24 weeks (about 5.5 months gestation), or later, can some feel pain. Such conclusions have resulted from non-abusive testing of premature newborns. One piece of evidence that supports the later age is that circumcisions on full-term male newborns are often performed without anesthetic.
There are two obvious ways to make certain that late-term fetuses will not experience pain:
Pass a bill like this one, which would eliminate most abortions after 20 weeks. But this approach would not prevent pain to late-term fetuses during those abortions that are still allowed under this bill. That does not seem like a good option, because it would not prevent all fetuses from experiencing pain.
Pass a simpler and more straight-forward bill that would require that any fetus older than 19 weeks after fertilization who was being aborted, or operated on in any way, be given anesthesia so that they cannot feel pain. Such a bill would probably get the support of both the pro-life and pro-choice communities. It would protect all late-term fetuses from pain.
Since those promoting the bill took the first path, I wonder whether their main concern is to prevent fetuses from experiencing pain; they seem to be mainly motivated by a desire to prevent most late-term abortions.
2018-JAN-27: Activity in the Senate:
Senator Joni Ernst, (R-IA) said:
"At five-month gestational age, babies have 10 fingers and 10 toes, they can yawn, stretch, make faces – and they can feel pain. I’m fighting for this legislation in honor of my friend and fellow Iowan, Micah Pickering, an incredible 5 year old who was born prematurely, at five months’ gestation. This legislation could protect up to 10,000 lives like Micah’s every year by preventing abortions after about 5 months of development, and it is absolutely critical that the Senate take up this legislation to protect our most vulnerable."
Senator James Lankford (R-OK) said:
"The United States is one of only seven countries, including North Korea, that allow abortion at five months of pregnancy. I applaud the House for passing this bill; it is now time for the Senate to act on this. So many children are alive, healthy, and growing today who were born prematurely at five months pregnancy. We should not allow elective abortions past five months of pregnancy, especially when science shows that unborn babies feel pain at this stage.”
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) said:
"Washington has a debate between empty euphemisms like ‘choice’ and basic science – none of the usual euphemisms change the fact that a 20-week old baby can see, swallow, and flex her arms and legs. Americans rightly condemn human rights abuses around the world because we judge societies on how they take care of their most vulnerable members -- there’s no good reason for the United States to be on a list of human rights abusers like China and North Korea in allowing these kinds of abortions." 9
The bill was referred to the Senate's Committee on the Judiciary, where debate on the bill was scheduled for the week of 2018-JAN-28.
2018-FEB-01: The bill died in the Senate:
The bill failed to pass on a vote by the full Senate. Franklin Graham issued a tweet stating:
"This week the Senate ... vote finished at 51 for/46 against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks in the U.S. We remain among the worst 7 countries in the world with these 20-week abortions. Pray for our lawmakers; and pray for our nation to turn to God." 10
He also said:
"I cannot imagine the regret these 46 politicians will one day have when they stand before God, the Creator, and realize the opportunity they had to do good, to do right, but they voted NO to protecting lives.They voted against human rights, the right to be born in the first place."
The Christian Headlines web site states that 16 individual states have passed laws that protect unborn babies from abortions after 20 weeks:
"Ohio, Texas, Nebraska, Idaho, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas." 10
About 18,000 abortions are performed each year after 20 weeks. This is about 2.7% of all abortions. Such abortions are usually done because a continued pregnancy would kill or seriously disable the mother, or because the fetus is so malformed that it could not live after birth.
The total number of abortions has dropped each year but two from 934,549 in 1996 to 653,639 in 2014. The latter value is the latest value published as of early 2018.
As of 2014, 20% of all abortions are performed early in pregnancy by medication. This number has increased from 10% in 2011. 11
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