At the beginning of October, 2017 the House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act with a vote of 237 to 189 in yet another attempt to thwart women’s ability to access safe health care. While representatives and supporters claim that this is to protect the lives of the unborn and speak for those who cannot, the end result is that women will have yet another barrier to overcome when seeking comprehensive care.
The new act will make it illegal for women to receive abortions after 20 weeks gestation except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is threatened. Psychological and emotional conditions are specifically excluded as exceptions. Adult women who are victims of rape or incest are required to receive counseling and/or medical treatment at least 48 hours before the performed abortion, but the counselling cannot take place at an abortion clinic, thus further limiting access to care. This also forces the woman to pursue care and report the incident in order to obtain the services she desires. This can result in additional trauma for the patient and is a further impingement on her rights. As for rape and incest of a minor, an abortion can be performed if the incident is reported to “a government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse, or a law enforcement agency.” In circumstances where such post 20-week gestation abortions are allowed, a neonatal resuscitation specialist is required to be present.
Planned Parenthood has stated that this is another “attempt to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion,” and NARAL said that this is an “attack on women’s freedom.”
The negative consequences of this act being passed are enormous, and involve not only further limitations on women’s freedom, but also astronomical strain on the health care system. This bill will force women throughout the country to carry non-viable fetuses to term resulting in an increase in cost of intrapartum, postpartum, and neonatal care. Additionally, the psychological impact of forcing women to carry their unviable fetuses to term cannot be over looked. Lack of choice in deciding to continue or end an unviable pregnancy can result in intense psychological strain that can affect every aspect of a woman’s life. This will place an additional burden on our already struggling mental health care system as well. Providers will need to be prepared in how to best counsel their patients in these situations and what resources they have available to them.
This bill will make it harder for providers to provide the care that they have committed to by making it illegal for “any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probably post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.”
While the bill still needs to pass in the Senate, anti-choice activists are calling on President Trump to back the bill. The White House has already come out and stated that they “strongly support” the bill. During his campaign Donald Trump also sent a letter to anti-choice activists claiming that he would work to end the “painful late-term abortions nationwide.”
Pro-life reps and supporters claim that this bill is preventing immense amount of needless suffering caused by late term abortions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) less than 1.3% of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks gestation, and 91.6% are performed during the first trimester.
House Representative Kevin McCarthy and other bill supporters have used scientifically unsupported claims that 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain to augment their support of the bill. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a statement in 2013 emphasizing that “rigorous scientific studies” have clearly demonstrated that fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until at least 24 weeks gestation. Other medical groups still agree that fetal nervous systems are not developed enough to feel pain until the third trimester which begins at 28 weeks gestation. Perhaps President Trump and his pals should stop using “alternative facts” to support their anti-women’s rights bills.
The bill was received by the Senate on October 4, 2017, and according to the Congress current legislation tracker, it has been read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. You can sign up to receive alerts on this bill by clicking “get alerts” at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/36/text.