On Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017, 234 House Republicans voted “aye” and passed the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” which, if passed by the Senate, would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation because they claim that the unborn fetus can feel pain. Everyone can agree that to not inflict pain onto others is the ultimate goal — but, who is this bill really protecting from pain?
As explained by Live Science, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has been clear that “the science shows based on gestational age, the fetus is not capable of feeling pain until the third trimester,” which begins at 27 weeks. Science regarding quantifying pain after this is nearly impossible, as pain is purely subjective and trying to measure the pain of a fetus is absolutely impossible. The House bill asserts that pain receptors or nociceptors are “present throughout the unborn child’s entire body and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks,” but a 2005 review by JAMA concluded these nerve receptors aren’t developed until the third trimester. Although the JAMA review is already 12 years old, it has withstood the stand of time and science, in that it has not been rebuked or disproven at all. The bill, however, claims, “the position, assert by some physicians, that the unborn child is incapable of experiencing pain until later in the pregnancy than 20 weeks after fertilization….[but] recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain." It fails to link, name, or explain this “recent medical research.”
There are exceptions written in this law for women whose life is at risk due to pregnancy, or victims of incest or rape, that would allow them to still obtain an abortion. The bill is careful in its wording that: 1. If an adult woman is pregnant due to rape, she needs to have received medical treatment and counseling for the rape 48 hours prior to the abortion, and 2. If a minor is pregnant as the result of incest or rape, it needs to have been reported and confirmed by a government agency. Both of these “exceptions” seem highly unlikely and put an undue burden onto the pregnant person. Doctors who are found performing abortion services after 20 weeks could face up to 5 years in prison.
Politicians, the talking heads on political commentary shows, and pro-choice advocates are putting all hope on the Senate now – so, there is still a cause for concern. Although it is seemingly unlikely the Senators who support this bill will be able to amount to a majority (the Senate Republicans would need to “turn” about 8 senators to reach the majority), the fact that the bill passed the House at all is a major concern. A bill of this magnitude would undoubtedly affect millions, and pro-choice advocates such as Planned Parenthood are working hard to educate and inspire people to call their Senators and help stop this bill.
As Planned Parenthood explains on their Planned Parenthood Action Fund website, “nearly 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks” and a 20-week ban is unconstitutional in that it is a clear attempt to “erode Roe v. Wade.” The CDC states less than 1% of abortions that in 2013 occurred after 20 weeks.
Donald Trump, who rarely speaks about abortion, has come out supporting a 20-week abortion ban, and advocates for the bill are obviously taking that as a “significant advance of their movement,” as explained by the Washington Post. On Monday, one day before the House voted, the White House released a statement applauding the House “for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.” The administration has taken a clear stance on this bill, and depending on how the Senate votes, activists against this bill are worried the Cheeto-in-chief could use this to further his anti-woman agenda. Dana Singiser, vice president for government relations and public policy for Planned Parenthood, is quoted by The Hill as saying, “the agenda behind this bill is clear: to shame women and to ban safe, legal abortion.”
If this is an issue close to your heart, womb, and mind, PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS. Refinery29 has a great piece on contacting your Senator and House Representative (even if you secretly don’t know who they are), so use it and CALL YOUR SENATORS.
Second Photo via Flickr/Adam Burakowski
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