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House majority falls short on fetal pain bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives failed Dec. 6 to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass legislation requiring women to be informed of the pain their unborn children may experience if they have late-term abortions.

The House voted 250-162 for the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act but fell 25 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval under the parliamentary rule by which it was considered.

The measure would have mandated an abortion doctor give a woman who is at least 20 weeks pregnant information about the pain her unborn child could experience during the procedure. If the woman still decides to have an abortion, she would have the option of anesthesia for her unborn baby in order to reduce his pain.

The vote apparently will be the last one involving abortion before Republicans surrender control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats in January. Congress is expected to adjourn by the middle of December.

Voting for the legislation were 210 Republicans and 40 Democrats. Nine Republicans joined with 152 Democrats and an independent in opposing the measure.

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., chief sponsor of the bill, said afterward the vote demonstrates “there is indeed an overwhelming concern for the suffering of the unborn during an abortion. The unfortunate thing is there are still those in the House who are simply not concerned about the pain unborn children feel nor do they see the importance in relaying this critical information to women.”

The vote “is proof-positive that we can pass this legislation despite the unwillingness of some extreme pro-abortion members of Congress,” Smith said in a written statement. “I remain determined to find an avenue to pass this legislation in the near future.”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said a favorable vote by 60 percent of the House “is no small thing.”

“The other 40 percent will have to explain why they favor anti-pain laws for animals used for research or food but not for unborn humans,” Johnson said in a written release.

The White House issued a memo endorsing the legislation shortly before the vote.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joined other pro-life organizations -– including the Christian Medical Association, Concerned Women for America and Family Research Council –- in supporting the bill.

The National Abortion Federation applauded the result, with President Vicki Saporta calling the measure “an ill-advised bill, which would have intruded upon the physician-patient relationship and substituted political agendas for sound science and medicine.”

NARAL Pro-choice America, however, refused to lobby against the bill, even though it is one of the country’s leading abortion rights organizations.

Smith introduced the bill, H.R. 6099, in September as a revision of earlier legislation he sponsored. The new version called for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a brochure to be provided to women seeking abortions about 20 weeks or more into their pregnancy. The brochure would inform such women there is “substantial evidence” unborn children at this point in gestation experience pain during abortions. The new measure also would not require a doctor’s medical license be revoked for violations but would still provide for civil penalties.

The pain experienced by unborn children at the mid-point of pregnancy was testified to during 2004 trials in legal challenges to a federal ban on partial-birth abortion.

In testimony before a federal judge in Lincoln, Neb., Kanwaljeet Anand, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said a partial-birth abortion “would be extremely painful” for an unborn baby at 20 weeks gestation, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Unborn children at 20 weeks have developed the sensory nerves, skin receptors and brain stem required to feel pain, he said. Studies have demonstrated unborn babies display pain physiologically, exhibiting an increased heart rate and the secretion of stress hormones, Anand testified. He also said the pain could be as great for an unborn child who is aborted by means of another procedure in which the baby is dismembered.

In a partial-birth abortion, a doctor normally delivers an intact baby, feet first, until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierces the base of the infant’s skull with surgical scissors, then inserts a catheter into the opening and suctions out the brain, killing the child.

Federal courts at both the district and appellate levels struck down the 2003 Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases Nov. 8 and is expected to issue a ruling in the first half of 2007.

Two 2004 public opinion surveys showed Americans strongly support giving information about fetal pain to women considering abortion when their pregnancy is 20 weeks or more. A Zogby poll found 77 percent support laws requiring women receive such evidence, and a Wirthlin Worldwide survey found 75 percent agree with such laws.