The Missouri House of Representatives has adopted legislation to protect preborn children from the violence of abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy. The House voted last week to adopt House Bill 1266, known as the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The measure won passage by a decisive vote of 117-31.The legislation, sponsored by Representative Donna Lichtenegger of Cape Girardeau, now moves on to the Missouri Senate. It would prohibit abortions when an unborn child has reached what the bill describes as the “pain capable gestational age.”
That term is defined as twenty-two weeks since the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period. That time frame is generally consistent with fertilization having occurred twenty weeks before. Thus the bill has been categorized as a 20-week abortion ban.A doctor would still be able to perform an abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy if it was determined that the procedure was necessary to prevent the mother’s death or to avert “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”There are now twenty-one state legislatures that have enacted laws prohibiting elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That threshold has been chosen based on a growing consensus in the medical community that the preborn child can feel pain by that point in their development in the womb.
There is now substantial medical evidence that by 20 weeks an unborn child has all the physical elements present that are capable of transmitting and experiencing pain, such as the spinal cord, the thalamus, nerve tracts, and numerous pain receptors. It is common practice for anesthesia to be administered to preborn children undergoing surgery at this stage of a pregnancy.Representative Diane Franklin of Camdenton challenged her colleagues to be sensitive to the plight of an innocent child. “What if we could hear that child’s cry, the baby’s response to that pain? Would we still hold the callous view that this pregnancy is just a choice?” Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved its own version of the Pain-Capable 20-week abortion ban. However, the bill died in the Senate when pro-abortion senators prevented the proposal from coming to a vote through a successful filibuster.
The strategy by pro-life advocates to push passage of 20-week bans is a direct challenge to the legal precedents established by the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue. The High Court has consistently ruled that a woman is entitled to obtain an abortion without interference by the state until the child reaches the age of viability. Federal courts have repeatedly declared that it is the sole discretion of the physician to determine when viability has occurred in a particular pregnancy. When the Supreme Court issued its original Roe v. Wade decision, the earliest a preborn child was generally considered capable of living outside the womb was around 26 weeks of pregnancy. Now the prevailing consensus is that viability is possible at 23-24 weeks of pregnancy.
Approximately 1 in 9 babies born in the United States each year are considered premature, which is a birth that occurs prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy. Over 96% of infants born between 28 and 36 weeks survive after birth. Under 28 weeks the rate of survival drops below 80%. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that while only 5% of babies born survive their birth at 22 weeks gestation, that number increases substantially to 23% when the child receives active medical treatment. Yet fewer than 1 in 4 infants receive such treatment at 22 weeks gestation, because they are presumed to be “non-viable.”
Not all pro-life activists are enthusiastic about “pain-capable” abortion legislation. Some believe it to be a mistake to establish what could be an enduring legal and cultural standard that it is acceptable to abort an unborn child so long as they would not experience pain during the procedure.The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 6000 unborn children are dismembered and destroyed through late-term abortions each year.