While the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban has yet to be enacted, its had a profound impact on society regarding abortion. It has educated millions of people to the ugly reality of so-called choice. It has also dismissed, in many peoples minds, the misconception that abortion is only legal during the first three months of pregnancy. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban has changed many hearts and minds on abortion.
Our efforts to stop partial-birth abortion must continue. At the same time, the pro-life movement must also look toward the future for our next major piece of federal pro-life legislation.
That time has come. Senator Sam Brownback, R-KS, has introduced the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act in the Senate. Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, has introduced a similar bill in the House.
Like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, this new bill also has the potential to greatly affect public opinion on abortion. An abortionist who is killing a child twenty weeks or older would be required to inform the mother that her child feels pain. The bill also allows the mother the option of giving her baby pain medication prior to the abortion.
The abortion industry is vulnerable on the issue of pain. This was clearly demonstrated during recent court hearings on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. When questioned under oath, abortionists were obviously very uncomfortable when asked about pain felt by the unborn child.
The question immediately arises, what is fetal pain? Is it simply an unconscious neurological reflex mechanism, or is it pain in the sense that we consciously feel pain?
Let’s use the following example. A newborn infant is having her diaper changed with an old-fashioned cloth diaper and pin. She is stuck by the pin. She immediately cries, letting us know she felt pain and she pulls away. Medically speaking, what happened was that her sensory nerves in this area felt this noxious stimulus and instantly sent a message back to the brain. It went to the thalamus at the base of the brain, which relayed the message to a motor nerve, instructing that part of her body to pull away.
Let’s take an 8-week fetal baby. This little girl, inside the womb, is stuck in the palm of her hand with a needle. What happens? She immediately pulls her hand away and opens her mouth. Since she is in a full-fluid medium, no cry is heard. However, it is obvious she reacted exactly like the newborn infant when she was stuck with a diaper pin.
In a very simple and direct fashion, if the infant felt pain, then we must say that the 8-week fetal baby also felt pain.
Naysayers will claim this pain is different, saying that, with the fetus, it is only a reflex. Their reason is that the thalamus, at that age, is not connected to the higher centers of the brain, the cerebral cortex. Therefore, not being so connected, the pain is not felt consciously and therefore is not pain.
One answer to this is to observe the reaction of an anencephalic infant when stuck with a diaper pin. Such a baby is born without cerebral hemispheres and without higher brain centers. These babies do have a brain stem and a thalamus. When this baby is stuck, we see the identical reaction of the normal newborn above. On occasion, such an infant will survive for a number of days, and when they do, they cry to have a wet diaper changed. They also react to other stimuli, showing that the need for cerebral hemispheres to feel pain is simply non-existent.
Why do sponsors of this new federal legislation draw the line at 20 weeks? Because medical research shows the sensory pathways and connections to the cortex necessary for pain perception are present, or beginning to form, at twenty weeks gestation. For documentation see a complete paper, Fetal Pain Legislation: Is It Viable? Teresa S. Colette, professor S. TX College of Law, Houston. See also, R. Hyfield, Unborn Child Can Feel Pain At Twenty Weeks, Daily Telegraph 2, 8-28-01.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act will not necessarily be that it will markedly curtail fetal pain. Rather, it will serve as a very effective educational tool, just as the partial-birth abortion debate did. Clearly, when the mother is told her baby can feel pain, she is also told there is an intact child in her womb. When these two concepts are connected in her mind, hopefully, she will think twice before aborting her baby.
Further, millions of Americans who are exposed to the public debate on this legislation will begin to understand that abortion kills a beautifully formed unborn child in the womb. It is our belief many will take the next logical step in reasoning, and decide that these children should be protected from abortion.