WASHINGTON (BP)–A new law in Nebraska could prove to be historic in the battle against legal abortion in the United States, some pro-lifers are predicting.
The Nebraska law — the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions, — took effect Oct. 15.
The law establishes a new standard in abortion bans: Rather than setting the benchmark at fetal viability, which can be 22 to 24 weeks, Nebraska’s law utilizes evidence that an unborn child experiences pain at 20 weeks for its guideline.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, described the new law’s enforcement as “a historic and celebratory moment for those who work to protect mothers and unborn children. This is the first time in history that a law recognizing fetal pain has been enacted. This new law represents the next wave of momentum for the pro-life movement and is a major step toward a post-Roe future.
“The abortion industry tries to discredit efforts like this because the concept of fetal pain destroys their strategy of depicting a developing baby as a blob of tissue,” Perkins said. “Acknowledging the truth of fetal pain recognizes the truth that a baby is an unborn person.”
Abortion-rights advocates oppose the law, and American doctors appear divided on when unborn children can feel pain.
Mary Spaulding Balch, the National Right to Life Committee’s director of state legislation, said, “At and after 20 weeks, unborn children have pain receptors throughout their body and nerves linking them to the brain. Continuing medical research has shown that the cortex is not essential to experience pain.”
The law permits exemptions only for serious physical, not mental, threats. According to the law, it must be determined that “the pregnant woman had a condition which so complicated her medical condition as to necessitate the abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, or the basis of the determination that it was necessary to preserve the life of an unborn child.”
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, signed the legislation into law in April after the legislature approved the bill in a 44-5 vote.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R.-Neb., and Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., have introduced similar, though not as far-reaching, bills in Congress.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.