October 03, 2017
On Monday, the White House quietly backed a bill that would close the window of time for legal abortions in the U.S., though medical evidence behind the proposed change is scarce.
In a statement by the Office of Management and Budget released Monday, the administration announced its support of the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which, if passed, would implement a 20-week cutoff for abortions.
The bill would “generally make it unlawful for any person to perform, or attempt to perform, an abortion of an unborn child after 20 weeks post-fertilization, with limited exceptions,” the statement said.
“The bill, if enacted into law, would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our Nation aspires.”
The statement also claims “the bill would promote a science-based approach to unborn life, as recent advancements have revealed that the physical structures necessary to experience pain are developed within 20 weeks of fertilization.”
The statement, however, conflicts with studies that point to a common cutoff period extending after 20 weeks.
“In the Supreme Court, it’s legal up until the term of viability, which is considered around 23 weeks,” said Dr. Lamar Ekbladh, professor of obstetrics & gynecology at the Drexel University College of Medicine.
“That’s where Pennsylvania sits, as far as legally doing it. Anybody can request an abortion up until that point.”
Ekbladh noted that at Drexel, he and his colleagues rarely see abortions after 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Rather, the 23-week time frame offers patients and doctors more time to accurately diagnose ailments in the fetus.
“The vast majority of abortions are done early,” Ekbladh said. “Literally all the abortions we do after 20 weeks have been for severe fetal anomalies that make them basically incompatible with life. For a lot of congenital anomalies, the final diagnosis isn’t made until after 20 weeks.”
Multiple studies are in agreement with Ekbladh’s statements. In 2013, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced its stance on the topic.
“Facts are very important,” the statement began. It went on:
“A human fetus does not have the capacity to experience pain until after viability. Rigorous scientific studies have found that the connections necessary to transmit signals form peripheral sensory nerves to the brain, as well as the brain structures necessary to process those signals, do not develop until at least 24 weeks of gestation. Because it lacks these connections and structures, the fetus does not even have the physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation.”
Ekbladh said he is not familiar with any medical evidence pointing toward fetuses able to feel pain at 20 weeks.
“The Supreme Court has said that abortion is legal up to viability, which is 23 weeks,” he said. “I don’t think it would pass the muster of reality if it were challenged.”
In 2015, the bill was passed by the House but blocked in the Senate. Now the bill needs 60 votes to pass the chamber. President Donald Trump has said previously that he would support the 20-week ban.