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In “Fetal Pain” Abortion Ban Debate, Both Sides Claim Scientific High Ground

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Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker)
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker)

After a long Wednesday considering airport security screenings and fireworks regulations, the House State Affairs Committee tried its hand at medical science, with Rep. Jodie Laubenberg’s proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Back in January, Gov. Rick Perry said a “fetal pain” bill like House Bill 2364 was one of his priorities for the session. The measure is based on the pseudoscientific argument that fetuses can feel pain 20 weeks after conception, a hot sub-debate within the fight over abortion access.

State Affairs, which also heard last session’s pre-abortion sonogram bill, is at the center of the women’s health debate again this session. Having already debated Wednesday whether abortion raises a woman’s risk of breast cancer (it doesn’t), the committee grappled with even deeper scientific questions with Laubenberg’s bill.

Laubenberg and Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) argued right off the bat about how to determine the age of the fetus. Laubenberg said that determining the age by the last menstrual period was more medically subjective that pinpointing the exact moment of sperm-hits-egg conception. Farrar disagreed. “This is quite the opposite,” she said.

Laubenberg told lawmakers she had a slew of peer-reviewed studies supporting “fetal pain” science. The pro-life group Texas Right to Life also circulated a video Wednesday featuring freshman Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), a neurosurgeon, to explain the “science” behind the 20-week theory.

As Rep. Farrar pointed out numerous times throughout the hearing, a 2005 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association discredits the theory. According to JAMA, “Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus,” and the capacity for a fetus’s perception of pain probably doesn’t exist before 29 or 30 weeks. Another study by University College London determined fetuses do respond to painful stimuli, but not until 35 to 37 weeks, which would be close to birth.

“I will very gladly place my studies against your studies,” Laubenberg told Farrar.

Some doctors from Texas and out-of-state backed Laubenberg. “I have the deep impression that these babies … have a nervous system developed enough to responds to pain,” Galveston doctor Patrick Nunnelly said.

Laubenberg’s bill would ensure that a doctor who induces, or attempts to induce, an abortion in violation of the 20-week rule can’t to renew their medical license. The bill would prohibit releasing the identity of a woman whose abortion had come after 20 weeks without her permission—or a judge’s ruling.

The bill also mandates that a woman seeking an abortion must have the physician determine the post-fertilization age of the fetus, must get a second opinion on the age of the fetus from another physician and the physician performing the abortion should provide “the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.”

The legislation provides an exception to this 20-week rule only if the woman is in danger of death or physical impairment if she does not get the abortion. Psychological harm to the woman is not taken into account. There is no exception if the woman is healthy except for risks if she takes the pregnancy to term, or if a medical diagnosis states that there is only a potential for the woman’s death or physical harm. There’s no exception based on the health of the fetus.

Critics of the bill testified that it’s irresponsible to ignore special cases like those, since abortions after 20 weeks often involve rare circumstances.

Whether the science behind the bill is faulty or not, ACLU Legal and Policy Director Rebecca Robertson said the bill’s provisions are unconstitutional. A report released earlier this month from the Guttmacher Institute noted that since Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states may only restrict or ban abortions after proving the fetus could survive after birth, but that “even after fetal viability, states may not prohibit abortions ‘necessary to preserve the life or health’ of the woman.”

Laubenberg, Texas’ state chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council, noted how popular these 20-week abortion bans have been across the country lately. Ten states—Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma—have already enacted 20-week abortion bans. Though Idaho’s was recently rejected by a federal judge, similar bills are working their way through other state legislatures.

The committee left the bill pending.

  • GuBEE

    You are cherry picking the on the JAMA report, even that report put the likely experience of pain in between 20-24 weeks, and there is every reason to believe it was bias, and did not address all possibilities.

    I’ve heard from more than one person in the abortion industry, including an abortionist, that pain likely starts much earlier than 20 weeks.

    How do the unborn often start trying to suck their thumbs as early as 9 weeks in the womb and respond to touch if they cannot feel anything? Why do the unborn exhibit movements in the womb >=4 on the movement chart of the Pediatric Glasgow Scale? When the unborn respond to physical stimuli, why does it appear that the motion do not match the decorticate or decerebrate posturing that one would expect based on current “science”.

    The Pro-choice crowd is funny, they consistently claim that the Pro-Life side is religious, and yet they ignore the majority of science when it comes to the issue of abortion. There are studies out there supported by the abortion industry that would state that pain does not start until 2weeks-6months after birth, how oblivious does one have to be to believe that garbage?

  • GuBEE

    The writer of this article also has ties to the Universalist Unitarian Church, which supplied the attorneys for arguing legal abortion in Roe V Wade, and strongly supports abortion in the core doctrines of the “faith”. Late term Abortionist Curtis Boyd, who kills the unborn through 24 weeks in Dallas, also attends the UU church.

  • Joel Christen Hardman
  • Joel Christen Hardman

    Would you believe the credibility of the Tobacoo industry telling you that Tobacco does not cause cancer?

    Why would you believe a report from JAMA given these conflict of interest:?
    “Dr. Liu also exposed the JAMA
    survey’s lead authors’ conflict of interest with the abortion
    industry. One was the director of the largest abortion clinic in San
    Francisco, and another author had served as an attorney for NARAL.”


    I was grateful for the opportunity to testify against this bill at the hearing. It was difficult to share my story of terminating a pregnancy at 22 weeks because of my daughter’s terminal condition but it was necessary. A lot of people are talking about women in my situation so I’m glad that I had the chance to tell them what it is really like to actually be in the situation. I don’t have any regrets about the path that I chose.

    • GuBEE

      Sounds as nice as brutally dismembering a cancer patient as they lay in bed, to save them from dying of cancer.

      • TXWALLST

        Why do you think that anyone got dismembered? You think at that giving birth to her and watching her gasp for air and struggling to live for a few minutes or hours or days was a better alternative? Then, you’re welcome to choose that path should it ever happen to you.

        • GuBEE

          So they did not dismember your baby? I hope whatever they did then killed your baby quickly. It honestly seems more humane to give birth and hold your live baby for a few moments before administering an anesthesia overdose, but that is more of an argument of euthanasia.

          What was the diagnosis of your child?

          Quite often, doctors are wrong.

          • TXWALLST

            You think that I had a termination for medical reasons based on a wrong prognosis from an OB/GYN AND a Maternal Fetal Specialist? You think that I’m going to give you her diagnosis so that you can look up information on Google and try to prove that you know more about my daughter’s illness than me? My daughter died instantly so I’m not sure why she would need to be delivered alive so that she could suffer. But, again, should this ever happen to you than you’re welcome to make whatever decision you choose. In the meantime, mind your own business and at least, educate yourself on what you’re so upset about.

          • GuBEE

            I am just wondering whether your medical reason was something as petty as down syndrome. There certainly are some diagnosis that would result in death upon birth, but even the most painless late term abortion method would still involve a very painful cardiac arrest following an injection of digoxin to the heart. Most doctors are not even skilled enough to deliver the shot to the heart, rather they often just inject digoxin or some similar chemical in the fluid and the child dies painfully and horribly over the course of a day.

          • TXWALLST

            When I testified for the first time, there was not an exception. That was added later. Her diagnosis wasn’t down syndrome. They didn’t use digoxin. The whole procedure took less then three minutes and yes, the doctor was able to deliver the shot to the heart. You are a very, very misinformed person.

        • GuBEE

          If what your child had was fatal, then the bill probably allows for abortion in that case.

          • Mika

            If you read the article carefully, you would have seen that there was nothing in the bill that allowed for the termination of a pregnancy regarding the fetus’s health.