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House vote on fetal pain bill expected soon

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives is expected to vote Dec. 5 or 6 on a bill requiring women to be informed about the pain their unborn children will experience if they undergo late-term abortions.

The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, H.R. 6099, would require an abortion doctor to provide a woman at least 20 weeks into pregnancy with information about the pain her unborn child would 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 Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission supports the measure as do the National Right to Life Committee, Christian Medical Association, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council and other pro-life organizations. Even NARAL Pro-choice America, one of the country’s leading abortion rights groups, declined to oppose an earlier, more comprehensive version of the legislation.

If the House approves the bill, there is no assurance the Senate will act on it. The Republican-controlled Congress is in a lame-duck session that will end in December. The Democrats gained control of both houses in the November election and will become the majority party in January, when all legislation will have to be reintroduced.

Rep. Christopher Smith, R.-N.J., introduced the fetal pain bill in September as a revision of earlier legislation he sponsored. The new version calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a brochure to be provided women seeking abortions about 20 weeks into their pregnancy. The brochure would inform such women there is “substantial evidence” unborn children experience pain during abortions at this point in gestation. 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 midpoint of pregnancy was testified to during 2004 trials in 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.

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.

The House bill has 93 cosponsors.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., introduced S. 51, a companion version to Smith’s earlier legislation, in 2005, but it has not been acted on in a committee or on the floor. The Senate bill has 34 cosponsors.

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.
Compiled by Tom Strode.

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