House passes 20-week, pain-capable abortion ban

A recent article in The Hill entitled, “House approves 20-week abortion ban,” reported, “The House approved a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a party-line vote.”  The article points out:

The legislation, which also requires a 48-hour waiting period, informed consent forms, and mandatory counseling for victims of rape and sexual assault before abortions, passed 242-184, with 4 Republicans in opposition.

The Obama administration again threatened to veto the bill, calling it “disgraceful” for House Republicans to push a late-term abortion ban bill that puts up barriers for sexual assault victims.

The party’s effort was lifted by a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that premature babies can survive at 22 weeks. Anti-abortion advocates are now hoping the new research will force the court to reconsider the question of viability of unborn babies — the lack of which was cited as a factor in the 1973 ruling.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who authored the legislation, argued that banning abortions by the late stage of a pregnancy as a matter of conscience.

“It is a test of our basic humanity and who we are as a human family,” Franks said in an emotional floor speech.

The CEO of the Christian Medical Association, my friend, David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics) comments on this legislation:

CMDA supported HR-36 The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and our members have testified before Congress on the scientific studies showing that not only do fetuses at that age experience pain, but they also experience it more because the neural pathways to blunt pain sensation are not fully developed.

The NEJM study found that only 22 percent of babies born at 22 weeks were given ‘active treatment.’ Their survival rate was 23 percent with active treatment versus only 5 percent without it. This raises the issue whether hospitals should be offering active treatment for 22 week babies (only five out of the 24 surveyed did) or at least telling prospective parents their policies as part of informed consent.

As medical capabilities increase, the age of viability for premature infants improves. In the 1970s, it was rare for a premature infant before 28 weeks to live and do well. Only by attempting to improve outcomes through treatment were protocols and techniques developed that have improved outcomes. The same will be true as we move into the future.

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