A House Judiciary Sub-Committee held hearings Thursday on proposed legislation that would ban abortions in the United States after 20 weeks gestation, when many researchers believe the nervous system has developed sufficiently to allow babies in utero to feel pain.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 1797), which currently has 127 cosponsors. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.
Two former abortion industry workers, Jill Stanek, a former registered nurse, and Anthony Levatino, a former abortionist, as well as Maureen Condic, Ph.D., a neurobiology and anatomy professor, provided testimony in favor of the bill to the House members, while Christy Zink testified against the legislation.
Stanek became a pro-life advocate after a baby, born alive during a late-term abortion at her hospital, died in her arms and she was unable to provide him with lifesaving care. She told the House members:
Today, premature babies are routinely given pain relief who are born at the same age as babies who are torn limb from limb or injected in the heart during abortions. Likewise, prenatal surgery is becoming commonplace, and along with it anesthesia for babies being operated on, even in the “middle of pregnancy,” Stanek told legislators. “Meanwhile, babies of an identical age are torn apart during abortions with no pain relief. It must be that some people inexplicably think the uterus provides a firewall against fetal pain, or that babies marked for abortion are somehow numb, while their wanted counterparts aren’t.
“This thinking,” said Stanek, “is better suited for the Middle Ages than for modern medicine.”
Levatino, who performed more than 1,200 abortions, described, in graphic terms, the role of the abortionist:
Picture yourself reaching in with the Sopher clamp and grasping anything you can. At 24 weeks gestation, the uterus is thin and soft, so be careful not to perforate or puncture the walls. Once you have grasped something inside, squeeze on the clamp to set the jaws and pull hard, really hard. You feel something let go, and out pops a fully-formed leg about six inches long.
Reach in again and grasp whatever you can. Set the jaw and pull really hard once again and out pops an arm about the same length. Reach in again and again with that clamp and tear out the spine, intestines, heart and lungs.
The head of a baby that age is about the size of a large plum and is now free floating inside the uterine cavity. You can be pretty sure you have hold of it if the Sopher clamp is spread about as far as your fingers will allow. You will know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and see white gelatinous material coming through the cervix. That was the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you.
Levatino added, “If you refuse to believe that this procedure inflicts severe pain on that unborn child, please think again.”
The former abortionist also criticized abortion supporters who argue that late-term abortions must be legal in order to save the health of mothers facing medical emergencies.
“[A]ny attempt to perform an abortion ‘to save the mother’s life’ would entail undue and dangerous delay in providing appropriate, truly life-saving care.” Levatino said.
Dr. Condic, an Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, provided audio-visual testimony to the House committee. She stated:
The earliest “rudiment” of the human nervous system forms by 28 days (four weeks) after sperm – egg fusion. At this stage, the primitive brain is already “patterned”; i.e. cells in different regions are specified to produce structures appropriate to their location in the nervous system as a whole.
Regarding the experience of pain, specifically, Condic said that while scientific evidence has clearly demonstrated that unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation, they have a capacity to feel pain much earlier even than that.
“The neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex, is in place by 8 weeks of development,” she explained. “This is the earliest point at which the fetus experiences pain in any capacity.”
“Imposing pain on any pain-capable living creature is cruelty,” Condic concluded. “And ignoring the pain experienced by another human individual for any reason is barbaric. We don’t need to know if a human fetus is self-reflective or even self-aware to afford it the same consideration we currently afford other pain – capable species. We simply have to decide whether we will choose to ignore the pain of the fetus or not.”
In her testimony, Christy Zink offered her experience of having aborted her 22-week-old child after discovering he had a serious brain defect.
In her testimony, Zink stated:
I am here today to speak out against the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Its very premise- that it prevents pain- is a lie. If this bill had been passed before my pregnancy, I would have had to carry to term and give birth to a baby whom the doctors concurred had no chance of a life and would have experienced near-constant pain. If he had survived the pregnancy- which was not certain- he might never have left the hospital. My daughter’s life, too, would have been irrevocably hurt by an almost always-absent parent.
Zink urged that “this harmful legislation” not be passed, stating that she is “horrified to think that…the doctor who helped us terminate the pregnancy would be prosecuted as a criminal under this law for providing basic, safe medical care and expertise.”