An interesting thing happened in Frankfort a few days ago. For the first time in the history of the legislature, bills actually passed the House and Senate during the first week of business. Traditionally, it was an "organizational" week where little was accomplished. Most notable is that significant steps have been taken to protect two classes of people: women and children.
HB 2 requires abortionists to provide an ultrasound picture of the unborn child at least 24-hours prior to an abortion. SB 5 bans abortion at 20 weeks gestation. This bill, which easily passed both chambers and signed by the governor on Saturday, is based on scientific findings that reveal babies at this age are susceptible to pain inside the womb.
Members of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU rallied against the bills in the Capitol and testified against them in committee. On one bill, they focus on the "burden" and "imposition" to the mother at the expense of information that might impact her decision. On another, opponents focused on rape and incest exceptions at the expense of acknowledging the barbarity of late-term abortion on babies capable of feeling tremendous pain in utero in the second trimester. Full disclosure: I testified on behalf of both bills.
I told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection that banning abortions at 20 weeks is humane legislation based on good science. Medical experts tell us that the unborn feel pain around 20 weeks in utero. According to one expert, an unborn baby's experience of pain may actually be heightened between weeks 20 and 30. This is because the baby at this stage has more pain receptors per square inch than at any other time before or after birth.
Interestingly, researchers have found that pain inhibition is not fully developed until later. This means that any pain the unborn child experiences before these mechanisms form is likely worse than the pain an older child or adult experiences. Opponents denied that the unborn feel pain. Which brings us to this question: If the unborn at this age don't feel pain why is fetal anesthesia needed for in utero surgery?
7 US Code 1902 requires slaughterhouses to render all animals "insensible to pain" before handling or butchering. KRS 525.135 also has laws requiring that animals must be humanely treated. It is clear that we there is an incredible inconsistency here. How can we treat animals with more dignity and sensitivity than we do for the most vulnerable member of the human race?
Robert J. White, medical doctor and professor of neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve University said "an unborn child at 20 weeks gestation “is fully capable of experiencing pain… Without question, [abortion] is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such surgical procedure.” There are currently 15 states with similar laws that have been enacted. One state law was struck down (Idaho). One is on appeal (Georgia). The rest remain unchallenged.
Opponents of the Ultrasound Bill (HB 2) claim it is a burden for women and an attempt to shame them into choosing life. In reality, it provides pregnant mothers contemplating abortion with all of the latest technology and information that has been systematically kept from them. How is giving women more information, all the medical information available—a burden? To say that women are better off with less medical information when making one of the most important decisions in their lives is absurd.
Opposition to this bill implies that the woman cannot handle the ultrasound information about her unborn child. Opposition also is effectively making a decision for many women who would rather have the ultrasound information provided. At its heart, this bill is about choice. More precisely, it's about making an informed choice.
After hearing opponents testify, it became clear that their arguments are based more on fear of abortion being curtailed than any credible concern that either bill will somehow harm women. If anything, doesn't the real harm consist of depriving women of critical information at a time when they most need it? And isn't real harm done to our collective conscience when we pretend the unborn don't exist or feel pain at later stages in pregnancy?
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a Kentucky-based nonprofit public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with his wife and children.