Abortion Debate Turns to Age at Which Fetuses Can Feel Pain

Mary Beth Nierengarten

Disclosures

May 28, 2015

In This Article

After learning during a routine 20-week ultrasound that her daughter had congenital diaphragmatic hernia, Christie Brooks and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy just shy of 22 weeks.

"A woman who ends a pregnancy at 20 weeks, whether for medical reasons or not, does so with the counsel of her family, her doctor, and her faith," Ms Brooks said during a press conference on the bill to ban abortions at 20 weeks, which passed the US House of Representatives on May 13. "A federal 20-week ban would have a devastating effect on so many families like mine...and it would put politicians in the middle of our most personal decisions, and could rush some families into a decision before they have the time to properly research and make an informed decision," she added.

If the bill to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks is enacted, women like Brooks who face the unexpected situation in which their fetus is developing abnormally will have little recourse but to carry to term.

"There is no evidence anywhere of a 20-week fetus surviving, even with intensive care," said Dr Hale Lawrence, executive vice president and CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), during the May 13 press conference that ACOG sponsored in partnership with NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The rationale behind the recent bill is not based on the viability argument on which the Roe v. Wade decision to ban abortions after 24 weeks gestation was made. Like other bills over recent years that have failed to pass the House, the current bill banning 20-week abortions is based on the argument of fetal pain.

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