Partial-Birth Abortion Trials Spur Fetal-Pain Legislation

WASHINGTON — Legislation has been introduced in Congress requiring abortionists to make a woman aware of the fact that her unborn child is capable of feeling pain.

The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would apply to abortions on children at or beyond 20 weeks' gestation. The woman would have to be informed verbally and with a brochure provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. If the woman still chooses to have the abortion, she would be given the option of anesthesia for her child.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said women should not be kept in the dark about fetal pain.

“Women have the right to know what their unborn child experiences during an abortion procedure,” he said.

Brownback, a Catholic, said the bill's genesis came after testimony this year during court challenges in California, Nebraska and New York to the federal partial-birth abortion ban.

An expert witness at one of the hearings, Dr. Sunny Anand, director of the Pain Neurobiology Laboratory at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute, testified April 15 that “the human fetus possess the ability to experience pain from 20 weeks of gestation, if not earlier, and the pain perceived by the fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children.”

Brownback was struck by the testimony of both physicians and anesthesiologists regarding the level of pain children feel. He said many abortionists indicated they had not thought about the possibility babies could feel pain or were not really concerned about it.

“Unborn children do not have a voice, but they are young members of the human family,” the senator said. “It is time to look at the unborn child and recognize that it really is a young human who can feel pain and certainly should be treated with some care.”

‘They Suffer Immensely’

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., coauthored the legislation, known as HR 4420 in the House. Like Brown-back, he also cited the importance of the testimony presented at the partial-birth abortion ban hearings.

“For a long time there was a sense of indifference and ignorance when it came to suffering endured by unborn children, especially as it related to surgery, and almost total indifference on the part of the abortion side when it came to the lethality of abortion,” said Smith, also a Catholic. “But now, the evidence is overwhelming and it's un-rebutted … and the time has come to say that these children suffer, and they suffer immensely. Women have a right to know that is happening.”

Many organizations support a woman's right to be fully informed before making a choice regarding her baby.

“The legislation does nothing to infringe on so-called abortion rights,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “It would simply require abortion providers to tell women seeking an abortion about the medical evidence on pain experienced by unborn children during abortion.” He believes the proposed Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act “falls in the ‘right to know’ category.”

National Right to Life legislative director Douglas Johnson said the whole issue of pain caused to the unborn child by abortion has been percolating for a long time, going back to the first hearings on partial-birth abortion in the mid-1990s. Johnson called on the abortion industry to think about the pain inflicted on the fetus and said his organization strongly supports the legislation.

Animals Better Protected

The U.S. bishops' Pro-Life Secretariat called HR 4420 an urgently needed bill in light of the testimony that unborn children experience excruciating pain during later-term abortions. Spokeswoman Cathy Cleaver Ruse said this legislation reveals the humanity of the unborn child, and the more that is revealed, the less palatable abortion becomes.

“The fact is that there are more regulations governing animals experiencing pain than there are for unborn babies experiencing abortion,” Ruse said. “Human babies should be given at least as much consideration as an animal is.”

Abortion providers who do not comply with the regulations of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would be subject to civil penalties. First-time offenders would have their medical licenses suspended and would also be assessed a penalty of up to $100,000. Second-time offenders would have their medical licenses revoked and could be fined up to $200,000.

Neither NARAL Pro-Choice America nor Planned Parenthood responded to telephone calls seeking comment.

Brownback indicated he is looking to address the issue in the Senate this year, possibly by adding the legislation to what he called “an amendable vehicle.” He said that although the issue is still new to some people, it is one that is very fresh in many people's minds given the partial-birth abortion ban hearings.

Ruse hopes for a lot of public discussion on the issue, even if the bill doesn't pass the first time around. She said the legislation is more likely to follow in the footsteps of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which took a few years to become law.

“Nothing is easy,” she said. “It will be fought tooth and nail by the abortion industry and its supporters.”

Keith Peters writes from Spotsylvania, Virginia.