Today the House of Representatives will vote on the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, sponsored by reproductive health advocates' good buddy – Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). This is the act that would require women seeking abortions be offered anesthesia for fetuses of 20 weeks or more and told that there is substantial evidence of fetal pain at that stage. Rev. Haffner discusses this latest attempt to mandate bad information and Marcy Bloom examines the science and politics behind this issue. And that's exactly what's going on – politics.
This is just another example of abortion counseling requirements that are medically inaccurate. Fetal pain legislation is a common tactic used by abortion opponents to try to force women to continue their pregnancies. In fact, five states already include counseling materials on fetal pain, despite credible scientific evidence that fetal pain is unlikely before the third trimester. (And third trimester abortions are illegal – in fact, so called "late-term" abortions occur in the second trimester and "partial-birth" is not even a real medical term… but now we're getting off-topic.)
This bill puts politics in the doctor's office, without regard to sound science – so why isn't this bigger news? Reproductive justice groups are walking a cautious line here. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) sent out select action emails and the National Abortion Federation (NAF) also strongly opposes fetal pain legislation, as does the National Organization of Women (NOW). But NARAL Pro-Choice America is taking a neutral position, releasing a statement that "women deserve access to all the information relevant to their reproductive health decisions."
Not surprisingly, most anti-abortion groups are strongly advocating for this legislation. Of course the National Right to Life Committee, Concerned Women of America, Population Research Institute and Priests for Life all urge the passage of this bill. However, there are some mixed feelings – the president of Life Decisions International feels that this legislation "also allows [the woman] to anesthetize her own conscience." According to Operation Save America, "‘Fetal pain' legislation is the typical National Right To Life (NRLC) ‘incremental' approach to end abortion." In their minds, the "bogus" bill has good intentions, but doesn't do enough.
Now, before you puke, let me tell you that it's not likely to pass – since the sponsors are expediting procedures to get the bill heard quickly, it would require a two-thirds majority… and even then there's not enough time for it to clear the Senate before Congress leaves town for the holidays. Why this last-ditch effort by conservative politicians in a lame duck session? To satisfy the anti-abortion base, of course. They want to call out pro-choice politicians – who are on their own for this vote (the Democratic leadership are not trying to influence the outcome). Reproductive health advocates in Congress will be forced to show their hands.
But is that really a bad thing? Only if politics trumps good health policy once again.