Imagine yourself as a parent who discovers in the 21st week of a pregnancy that your potential child is doomed to die an excruciating death within hours of birth.
Under the time frame laid out under Roe v. Wade, that family would at least have the option to terminate the pregnancy. But under a bill soon to become Georgia law, a woman will be condemned to carry that child in her belly and “allow nature to take its course,” however cruel that course may be.
Again, imagine that situation: the congratulatory smiles that greet the once-hopeful mother and her still-swelling belly in the grocery store, at church and at the daycare center; the well-meaning inquiries as to the baby’s gender and due date. What are intended as friendly gestures turn into repeated cruel reminders of what never will be.
And at birth?
In testimony to a Senate committee Monday evening, Dr. Andrew Dott, an obstetrician specializing in bringing high-risk pregnancies to happy endings, described tragedies in which skill, care and technology still fall short. In some cases, for example, doctors know beforehand that a fetus’s lungs have not developed.
“I ask you whether this child would have experienced less pain and suffering if it had died in the birth canal at 21 weeks, when the child, based on medical evidence, does not experience pain, or after 12 hours of intensive care with tubes down its throat and needles in its blood vessels while it suffocated to death,” Dott told the panel.
Under House Bill 954, almost all abortions later than 20 weeks, including those involving rape and incest, would be banned under the premise that after 20 weeks a fetus is capable of feeling pain. Dott and two other obstetricians, also specialists in high-risk pregnancies, told the panel that overwhelming medical evidence has established that a fetus does not develop the capacity to feel pain until the 28th week of gestation. When doctors operate on fetuses younger than 28 weeks, the committee was told, it is standard medical practice not to use anesthetic because the neural connections needed to feel pain simply do not exist.
Yet the sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Doug McKillip, summarily dismissed the threshold of 28 weeks. “Does anybody believe that? Absolutely not,” he told the panel, in effect calling the medical experts liars. “They are just looking for a reason to say no to this bill.”
In asking for an exception that would at least allow “medically futile” pregnancies to be ended, Dott told the panel that he delivered his first baby in an elevator in medical school 45 years ago. In all his years of practice, he told the panel, “I have never seen a patient who electively aborted a normal pregnancy greater than 20 weeks.”
McKillip blithely dismissed that claim as well. In fact, he repeatedly treated medical experts testifying against his bill with a zealot’s scorn verging on downright contempt. Contradicting Dott, he insisted that “grand majority” of abortions performed Georgia past the 20th week are abortions of convenience. But again, he cited nothing more than his own considerable moral certitude as evidence.
McKillip repeatedly claimed that his bill was motivated by a reverence for life and a concern about fetal pain. However, his refusal to accept an exception even in cases when the pregnancy is medically futile makes that explanation impossible to accept. Given the explicit chance to add that exception to the bill, the Senate committee also refused.
You cannot claim to be motivated by concern for fetal pain and then condemn babies to a birth that all concerned — doctors, mothers, fathers — know will end in a baby’s excruciating, hopeless death.
You cannot claim to be defending life when you condemn a would-be mother to give birth to death. The bill is angry and punitive, a brutal insistence that if God or nature has dictated that a mother and child go through such torture, then said torture will by God occur. Dan Becker, head of Georgia Right To Life, even warned that those seeking an exception for medically futile pregnancies are part of “a new eugenics movement in the United States” similar to that in Nazi Germany.
The Georgia Legislature, in other words, is in the process of surrendering to zealots and fanatics while disavowing compassion and logic. And it is the nature of zealotry and fanaticism to never be satisfied.
– Jay Bookman