WASHINGTON DC - Any mother that has ever carried an unborn child knows that their little one was active before birth and responded to stimuli from outside the womb. Those same mothers are well aware that their babies experience a sleep/activity routine that can be changed by sound, the mother's activities and her schedule.
But do those unborn babies experience pain? And if they do, should the adults outside the womb do something to protect unborn babies past six months in development from experiencing unnatural, inflicted pain? How about the pain experienced during an abortion?
This week, before their five-week summer vacation began, Congress voted on HR 3803, the District of Columbia Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The legislation states the purpose of the legislation is for "Congress to assert a compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain."
According to legal analysts, HR 3803 would have criminalized all abortions performed in the District after 20 weeks’ gestation—prohibiting physicians from providing such procedures with no health exception, other than a mother's life.
When Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-2) called HR 3803 for the vote in the U.S. House Tuesday, 220 supported the bill, 156 opposed it, 3 voted present and 55 didn't vote at all. Needing 2/3 of the House for passage, the bill failed passage to the U.S. Senate.
Democrats Costello and Lipinski voted yes, and Davis, Gutierrez, Quigley and Schakowsky opposed HR 3803. Three Illinois House members were not present - Rush, Jackson and Tim Johnson.
Congress listed these findings as reasons to support the Unborn Child Protection Act:
- (1) Pain receptors (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 after fertilization.
- (2) By 8 weeks after fertilization, the unborn child reacts to touch. After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling.
- (3) In the unborn child, application of such painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress response.
- (4) Subjection to such painful stimuli is associated with long-term harmful neurodevelopmental effects, such as altered pain sensitivity and, possibly, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities later in life.
- (5) For the purposes of surgery on unborn children, fetal anesthesia is routinely administered and is associated with a decrease in stress hormones compared to their level when painful stimuli are applied without such anesthesia.
- (6) The position, asserted by some medical experts, that the unborn child is incapable of experiencing pain until a point later in pregnancy than 20 weeks after fertilization predominately rests on the assumption that the ability to experience pain depends on the cerebral cortex and requires nerve connections between the thalamus and the cortex. However, recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.
- (7) Substantial evidence indicates that children born missing the bulk of the cerebral cortex, those with hydranencephaly, nevertheless experience pain.
- (8) In adult humans and in animals, stimulation or ablation of the cerebral cortex does not alter pain perception, while stimulation or ablation of the thalamus does.
- (9) Substantial evidence indicates that structures used for pain processing in early development differ from those of adults, using different neural elements available at specific times during development, such as the subcortical plate, to fulfill the role of pain processing.
- (10) The position, asserted by some commentators, that the unborn child remains in a coma-like sleep state that precludes the unborn child experiencing pain is inconsistent with the documented reaction of unborn children to painful stimuli and with the experience of fetal surgeons who have found it necessary to sedate the unborn child with anesthesia to prevent the unborn child from engaging in vigorous movement in reaction to invasive surgery.
- (11) Consequently, there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, if not earlier.
- (12) It is the purpose of the Congress to assert a compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life stated, “Today’s ground-breaking majority vote constitutes a giant step towards this bill ultimately becoming law – perhaps after the replacement of some of the lawmakers, who today were unwilling to protect pain-capable unborn children in the 6th month of pregnancy or later. 154 House members will have to explain to their constituents, why they voted to endorse a policy of legal abortion for any reason, until the moment of birth, in their nation’s capital.”