2017-JAN until now: The U.S. Federal
Unborn Child Protection Act"
Drawing of a human fetus
2017-JAN-03: The federal "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" is introduced into the House:
Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced this bill as H.R.36. It was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, and then to the Committe's Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. The bill was passed by a recorded vote in the full House (237 to 189 with seven non voting) on OCT-04. It was then forwarded to the Senate. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, the bill would prohibit all abortions performed after 20 weeks following conception, except under very limited circumstances. The stated rationale by the authors of the bill is the belief that the a fetus 20 weeks or older following conception can feel pain. Thus, they feel that the processes involved in performing an abortion would be intolerably painful to the fetus.
The bill is called "Micah's Law" because, 5 years previously, a boy, Micah Pickering, was born prematurely at 20 weeks gestation. He is one of the youngest fetuses to ever survive in a healthy state. 2
The bill calls for the following procedure to be followed before any abortion is performed:
The age of the embryo or fetus must first be estimated. Most abortions are sought during the first trimester, when an ultrasound or brief inspection of the woman's body would show that the embryo or fetus certainly met the 20 week requirement for an abortion under this bill.
The age is expressed in weeks and can be calculated in two ways: either:
The Gestational Age, which is calcuiated as the number of weeks since the first day of the mother's last menstrual period, or
The Fertilization Age (a.k.a. the Post Fertilization Age, the Embryonic Age and later in gestation, the Fetal Age). It is calculated from the date of conception, which is usually unknown, but can be estimated from the Gestational Age or from an ultrasound scan.
If the Fetal Age is equal or greater than 20 weeks (i.e. the Gestational Age is equal or greater than about 22 weeks) then the bill would forbid an abortion unless:
The abortion is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or
The abortion is the result of a rape of an adult woman and she has received counseling or medical treatment, or
The abortion is the result of rape or incest of a minor which has been reported to a child abuse agency or police.
The bill would require that every attempt be made to deliver the fetus alive and to preserve its life and health as is done for a natural birth, unless that would cause a significant risk to the mother's life or is a risk of causing her a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major" physical bodily function. 2
Only about 1% of abortions are sought at this stage in pregnancy. They are normally sought because of evidence that the fetus is genetically defective. Thus the overall abortion rate would be little effected by this law if it is passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.
The rationale for the bill is to save human fetuses from pain during an abortion. However, the authors of the bill missed one important point. The bill allows abortions -- under some circumstances -- to be performed at or after 20 weeks without first anesthasizing the fetus. They could have easily added to the bill a requirement that any operation on a fetus -- abortion or otherwise -- at or after 20 weeks post conception can only be performed after the fetus is first anaesthetized so that it could not feel pain. But, they didn't.
This is such an obvious and needed addition. It causes me to suspect that the main motivation behind the bill was to reduce the number of late-term abortions rather than save the fetus from pain.
You Tube video: Sponsors of the bill discuss the bill at its introduction to the Senate:
How the Gestational and Fetal Ages of a fetus are estimated:
The sequence of events starting at sexual intercourse and leading up to childbirth are normally:
A single ovum is released by the woman's ovary. This happens about 2 weeks after the first day of the woman's last menstrual period (LMP) prior to pregnancy.
One very lucky spermatozoon, contributed by a male, fertilizes the ovum which is then referred to as a zygote or pre-embryo. Most religious conservatives consider this to be the start of pregnancy.
About two-thirds of human embryos do not survive. They die within a week and are expelled from the body, 4 generally without the woman being aware that conception had happened. Thus, a typical woman who has given birth has had an average of two unknown miscarriages per successful birth.
A few days later, the pre-embryo has divided into many individual cells, and is called a blastocyst. It reaches the uterus, and implants itself in the inner wall of the womb. Medical professionals and most others who are not religious conservatives regard this event as the beginning of pregnancy.
A pregnancy hormone known as hCG starts to enter the woman's bloodstream. In a few weeks, the level of hCG becomes high enough to be detected by a pregnancy test. 5
The bill is debated in the House:
Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) introduced the bill to the House. She stated that at a fetal age of 20 weeks:
"... 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 between 65 million to 335 million during its first ten years, largely through federal support for Medicaid, as caused by the additonal births.
2017-OCT-03: House passes the bill:
The vote was 234 to 187. The bill was sent to the Senate, where its probability of passing is slim to non-existent. 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 in 2017.
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.
It 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
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