Thursday, May 20, 2004

The next big rallying point for the pro-life movement on Capitol Hill appears to be legislation introduced yesterday that would require doctors to inform women seeking abortions that the procedure will cause pain to their unborn children.

“Unborn children can and do feel pain,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican. “Women should not be kept in the dark.”

“We’re going full-court press,” said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a New Jersey Republican who is sponsoring the measure in the House.

Mr. Smith has asked for hearings on the legislation and is hoping for a floor vote this year. Mr. Brownback is talking with Senate Republican leaders about attaching the proposal to a larger bill that comes before the Senate.

Meanwhile, a major pro-choice group had to jump to the defense of Sen. John Kerry this week, after the Associated Press reported that the Massachusetts Democrat, his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, said he is open to nominating antiabortion judges as long as it doesn’t result in the Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. NARAL Pro-Choice America immediately issued a statement saying they’re confident that Mr. Kerry will protect abortion rights.

“NARAL Pro-Choice America knows, based on John Kerry’s record in the U.S. Senate, and the positions he has articulated as a candidate for president, that Roe v. Wade would be safe in his hands if he is elected president,” interim President Elizabeth Cavendish said. “He is an unwavering supporter of a woman’s right to choose.”

On Capitol Hill yesterday, major pro-life groups and several lawmakers supported the new fetal-pain legislation, which would require abortion providers to inform a woman who is seeking abortion 20 weeks into the pregnancy or later of medical evidence that the child in her womb can feel pain during an abortion.

Calls to NARAL and the National Abortion Federation for comment were not returned yesterday.

Having seen several bills it has supported become law in recent years — including bills to ban partial-birth abortion and allow prosecution of those who hurt or kill unborn children in the commission of crimes — the pro-life lobby now hopes to highlight the fetal-pain issue.

The push for the new bill was spurred largely by expert testimony on fetal pain given during federal court cases challenging the partial-birth-abortion ban in New York, California and Nebraska.

“The recent partial-birth-abortion ban trials have cut through the denial and drawn attention to the pain that unborn children feel during an abortion,” Mr. Smith said.

In testimony given to the federal court in California on April 15, Dr. Sunny Anand, director of the pain neurobiology Laboratory at Arkansas’ Children’s Hospital Research Institute, said, “The human fetus possesses the ability to feel pain from 20 weeks of gestation, if not earlier, and the pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children.”

Dr. Anand said, “The highest density of pain receptors per square inch of skin in human development occurs in utero from 20 to 30 weeks’ gestation,” meaning that an unborn child feels heightened pain during that time because the epidermis is still thin and nerve fibers are close to the surface.

The bill would give a woman seeking an abortion the option of providing anesthesia to her unborn child and would require her doctor to give her a brochure describing the drugs.

Abortion providers who don’t comply with the measure would face fines and could lose their medical licenses for repeated violations.

“I’m sure pro-abortion proponents will come out in strong opposition to this bill, which will go a long way in exposing their hypocrisy on the issue of women’s rights,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Women have the right to know what happens when they have an abortion, and they have a right to know the pain their unborn child will experience when it is being aborted. Anyone who would deny a woman such information is hardly a defender of women’s rights.”

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