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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Fetal Pain Bill

Yesterday's Washington Post reports on the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act currently being considered in Congress.

In a parting gesture by social conservatives before Republicans relinquish control, House leaders plan to bring up a bill tomorrow that would declare that fetuses feel pain and require abortion providers to offer pregnant patients anesthesia for their unborn child.

The scheduled vote may be the last on abortion-related legislation for years. That's because Democratic leaders hope to avoid confrontations over hot-button social issues that divide their caucus, and focus instead on military and pocketbook issues. . . .

At first blush, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would seem to be anathema to abortion rights groups. It requires abortion providers to tell a woman whose pregnacy is 20 weeks past fertilization "there is substantial evidence" that the fetus will feel pain during the procedure -- a point hotly debated among physicians and pain specialists.

The woman would then have to sign a form accepting or declining anesthesia for her fetus. Some medical groups interpret the language to mean that the fetus would have to have an application of anesthesia separate from the mother's, a procedure that many abortion clinics are not capable of providing.

Even the bill's definition of pregnancy -- beginning at the moment of fertilization, rather than at implantation in the uterus -- is problematic to some abortion rights groups, since it would legislatively establish that some forms of birth control induce abortion by blocking implantation after fertilization.

Backers of the bill have framed it as a common-sense extension of existing state laws that mandate that patients receive information about abortion procedures before giving their consent.  "This is just a compassion piece of legislation to take informed consent to the level it should be at," said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), an obstetrician and antiabortion conservative.

While the measure has provoked strong opposition from Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, NARAL Pro-Choice America, perhaps the nation's leading abortion rights group, has stayed neutral.

"Pro-choice Americans have always believed that women deserve access to all the information relevant to their reproductive health decisions. For some women, that includes information related to fetal anesthesia options," Nancy Keenan, NARAL's president, has said in a statement on the bill. . . .

For some further thoughts (rather negative thoughts) on the legislation and a critique of NARAL's position, see Firedoglake

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