Georgia state legislators seem likely to pass a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions once a pregnancy has advanced beyond 20 weeks. (The current legal limit is 26 weeks). The rationale behind the bill is scientifically fraudulent, and its potential impact is tragic.
Let’s deal first and quickly with the ungrounded premise behind House Bill 954, which claims that “by 20 weeks after fertilization there is substantial evidence that an unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain.”
No, there isn’t.
Although a relative handful of scientists claim otherwise — and many of those scientists are pro-life activists — the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the neural connections needed to feel pain do not exist in a fetus until at least 24 weeks into gestation and even beyond that. A 2010 review of all research in that area by Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists makes the science behind the question quite clear.
Now, let’s talk about the practical impact of such a bill.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nine out of 10 abortions performed in the United States occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those are unplanned, unwanted pregnancies that the mother chooses to terminate.
However, the small fraction of abortions that occur after the proposed 20-week deadline are a very different matter. Many if not most such abortions occur not because the pregnancy is unwanted, but because prenatal testing has discovered serious or even fatal abnormalities in the development of the fetus.
However, rather than create an exemption for such tragic cases, HB 954 cruelly and callously forbids it. In fact, they are the target of the bill. Abortions beyond the 20-week limit would be allowed only to save the life of the mother or “to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function,” which is a very high standard for a “health of the mother” exception. There is no provision regarding severe impairment of the fetus.
Georgia is not alone in considering such legislation. To the contrary, HB 954 is part of a nationwide crusade to pass such laws. In the handful of states where it has passed, it’s already having an impact.
For example, in Nebraska last year, Danielle Deaver suffered a serious setback 22 weeks into a planned pregnancy when her water broke prematurely. Her doctors told her that her fetus’ lung and limb development had ceased as a result, and that even if carried to term, the baby would be born unable to breathe. But under a newly passed state law almost identical to that under consideration here in Georgia, Deaver was denied the right to end that pregnancy.
When she finally went into premature labor, the child died 15 minutes after birth. This was considered humane, moral and proper by Nebraska legislators.
In Washington, D.C., congressional Republicans are trying to pass a bill imposing similar restrictions on residents of the District of Columbia. At a press conference this week, Christy Zink, a D.C. resident and mother of two, recalled the impact that such a law would have had on her own tragic case.
Twenty-two weeks into her pregnancy, tests determined that if carried to term, Zink’s fetus would be born with half of its brain missing and other structures compromised as well. Shocked by the news, she and her husband made the difficult choice to end the pregnancy. Under the so-called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” however, she would have been denied the right to do so.
“Its very premise — that it prevents pain — is a lie,” Zink said of the bill. “If this bill had been passed before my pregnancy, I would have had to carry to term and give birth to a baby whom the doctors concurred had no chance of a life and would have experienced near-constant pain.”
Here’s Zink’s statement. Watch it, and as you do, remember that in the eyes of many this mother of two is a murderer because of the difficult decision that she and her husband were forced to make, a deeply personal decision that members of Congress and Georgia legislators want to strip from citizens of this country because as elected representatives, they believe themselves to be more qualified.
These decisions are not easy. Several years ago, Rick Santorum and his wife Karen faced a similar dilemma and took a very different course, as he often describes in very moving terms. They decided to see their pregnancy through to term, even knowing that the child would certainly die once it left the womb. Just as their doctors warned them, their son, Gabriel, died two hours after his birth.
No one should question the decision that the Santorums made. It was their personal struggle, and they handled it on the basis of their own values, thoughts and faith. It is the essence of freedom to be able to make such decisions yourself, free of government dictate.
Likewise, however, I also do not believe it within the purview of the Santorums or Georgia legislators or members of Congress to question or most of all overrule the decisions that other Americans might make in that same situation. It is, or ought to be, unthinkable.
– Jay Bookman