Texas fetal pain bills would ban abortions beyond 20 weeks

Long-awaited fetal pain bills filed; Perry backs legislation.

AUSTIN—Bills filed in the Texas House and Senate on March 5 would outlaw abortion beginning in the 20th week of pregnancy based on evidence that babies can feel pain at that point.

“Both the Texas State Senate and the Texas State House enjoy pro-life majorities, and most of our elected officials are excited to pass this bill into law so that preborn Texans will be spared the torturous pain of late abortion,” Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, told the TEXAN. “Pro-life champ Gov. Rick Perry has promoted the legislation, and he is eager for the bill to reach his desk. He shares Texas Right to Life’s position that our state has a legitimate interest in protecting the lives of preborn children who can feel pain, and we are honored by his support and bold leadership on life.”

The House version of the bill (HB 2364) was filed by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker. A companion bill in the Senate (SB 25) was filed by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy. Both bills are known as the Preborn Pain Act.

Perry supported the bills in a news release the day they were filed.

“The state has a responsibility to prevent the needless suffering of our most vulnerable citizens, and these bills introduced by Sen. Hegar and Rep. Laubenberg are a vital step toward meeting that obligation,” Perry said in the release. “Texas has done a great deal of work over the last several years to nurture our culture of life, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect the lives of the unborn, until abortion is finally a thing of the past.”

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill say “substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization” and claim a “compelling state interest” in protecting children at that stage.

The Arkansas Legislature passed a similar law and in February overrode the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe to enact it into law. Ten other states have recognized the need to protect unborn children who can feel pain, according to a press release in December from Perry.

“Establishing Texas’ interest in the life of the preborn child who feels pain reflects the mindset of the majority of Texans who are committed to defend innocent life in Texas,” Hegar said. “This state interest will allow Texas the legal capacity to shield these preborn babies from inhumane and unnecessary pain.”

According to Laubenberg, “Texas believes all life is worthy of protection. The babies who will be saved through HB 2364 will be spared the excruciating pain of abortion.”

Abortion rights groups, however, claim that not all studies agree on the point at which a baby can feel pain. They also say the Preborn Pain Act fails to protect women adequately.

“Our position is that this bill is not based on sound science,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said according to the San Angelo Standard-Times.

Though the bill allows abortion to save the life of the mother or prevent “substantial or irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function,” Busby said the law does not cover all cases well.

“It can’t possibly contemplate every situation that a woman would find herself in,” she said. “It puts their lives and their health in jeopardy.”

Texas Right to Life says anesthesia is given to babies when surgery is performed in utero at 20 weeks after fertilization and cites the opinions of numerous doctors and scientists to support the idea of fetal pain.

For example, Jean Wright, a Savannah, Ga., anesthesiologist specializing in pediatric critical care medicine, told the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution in 2005 that by 20 weeks after fertilization, all the physical structures necessary to experience pain have developed. And according to Richard Schmidt, past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “It can be clearly demonstrated that fetuses seek to evade certain stimuli in a manner which in an infant or an adult would be interpreted as a reaction to pain.”

In December, Perry said his ultimate goal is “to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past,” though Roe v. Wade “prevents us from taking that step.” But he said the Supreme Court allows states to restrict the procedure if they can show a “compelling state interest” to do so.

“I don’t think there is any issue that better fits the definition of ‘compelling state interest’ than preventing the suffering of our state’s unborn,” Perry said. “We cannot, and we will not, stand idly by while the unborn are going through the agony of having their lives ended.”

Texas already has numerous restrictions on abortion, including a ban in the third trimester except in rare cases when the mother’s life or health is threatened. Yet if passed, the Preborn Pain Act would save approximately 1,000 lives each year—the number of abortions estimated to take place in the state annually after the 20th week of pregnancy.

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