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Humanizing Our Unborn Children

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1 Humanizing Our Unborn Children on Tue Apr 20, 2010 11:19 pm


April 19, 2010

There was a good article in the Washington Post today By Marc Thiessen entitled Bringing Humanity Back to the Abortion Debate. The article is an op-ed piece reflecting on the recent action of Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska in signing into law the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Gov. Dave Heineman (left) signs Nebraska's historic "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” With him are Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, who worked tirelessly on behalf of the bill, and Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, who did a wonderful job of shepherding the bill through the legislature.

Obviously the Nebraska law will be challenged by pro-choice forces in this country and likely go all the way to the Supreme Court. But in the end as Mr. Thiessen also observes in his article, the increasing evidence that unborn children do feel pain early on in the pregnancy may be a significant factor in changing hearts across this land.

In the Church we have always held to the fact the unborn child is fully human from the moment of conception. Yet, outside pro-life circles it has always been necessary for them to dehumanize the “fetus” (in other words the baby) in order to make this heinous act more palatable. No amount of evidence for the humanity of the unborn child will ever convince hardened pro-choice advocates. But it remains true that not every one who is pro-choice is adamantly so. The evidence that unborn children feel pain may well move the hearts of the ambivalent toward deeper respect for life. If baby seals should not be clubbed to death because it is cruel, perhaps some will be convinced that abortion is cruel to the child as well if fetal pain can be clearly demonstrated.

It is clear that we face challenges even here. Some years ago the movie “Silent Scream” showed ultrasound images of an actual abortion. It was unmistakable to me that the unborn child was struggling to survive and frantically drawing away from the cutting instrument. But to many others it was not so clear. I thought at the time, “If this cannot convince people what will?” So even here I am aware that some hearts are very hardened. But it is that the middle ground where the ambivalent pro-choice Americans reside that there may be response to the increasing evidence of fetal pain. We can only hope and pray.

I would like to provide excerpts from Mr. Thiessen’s article and add some comments of my own in RED.

Can an unborn child feel pain? That question will dominate the abortion debate in America for the next several years thanks to Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska. Last week, Heineman signed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law, banning abortions in Nebraska at and after 20 weeks based on growing scientific evidence that an unborn child at that age can feel pain.

The legislation was enacted as a defensive measure. After the murder of late-term abortionist George Tiller, a physician named LeRoy Carhart declared his intention to carry on Tiller’s work at his Bellevue, Neb., clinic. State legislators did not want Nebraska to become the country’s late-term abortion capital — so they voted 44-5 to stop him. Good for them and look at the size of the vote!. God bless the people of Nebraska.

The new law will probably spark a Supreme Court showdown, because it directly challenges one of the key tenets of Roe v. Wade — that “viability” (the point at which an unborn child can survive outside the womb, generally held to be at 22 to 24 weeks) is the threshold at which states can ban abortion. In defending the law, Nebraska will ask the high court to take into account scientific research since Roe and push the legal threshold back further. That’s the idea, moving the ball down field. We may not be able to score a touchdown just now but moving the ball, moving the threshold back wherein a State can legally ban abortion is important. If we cannot completely end abortion right now we can possibly erode its legality.

In 1973, when Roe was decided, it was believed that the nervous systems of even newborn babies were too immature to feel pain– so doctors generally did not provide anesthesia to infants before surgery. But 25 years ago, a young doctor at Oxford University named Kanwaljeet Anand noticed that babies coming to his neonatal intensive care unit from surgery suffered a massive stress response — indicating they had been through extreme pain. His research into this phenomenon shifted medical opinion, and today even the most premature newborns are given anesthesia to alleviate pain during surgery. It is incredible we would ever think that newborns couldn’t feel pain. Obviously they do. I remember being able to see that in my newborn baby brother. Once his hand got pinched in the stroller. He howled. Another time a little the corner of the car door nicked his head. Again he screamed and cried for quite some time, so much so we were getting ready to take him to the hospital. Of course newborns feel pain. They also experience anxiety. This is obvious. What were we thinking to presume they did not? Luckily common sense and research have prevailed and we now use anesthesia.

Anand — now a professor at the University of Arkansas and a pediatrician at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital — continued his research into infant pain, which has led him to conclude that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, and possibly as early as 17 weeks when a portion of the brain called the “subplate zone” is formed. Indeed, according to a New York Times Magazine story on Anand’s research, a fetus’s “immature physiology may well make it more sensitive to pain, not less: The body’s mechanisms for inhibiting pain and making it more bearable do not become active until after birth.” Anand clearly has credibility here and a track record of turning medical opinion. This is very good news, not that infants feel pain but, that we are finally paying attention to the evidence and demonstrating what we should have presumed all along. That there was even the possibility that unborn children feel pain and expereince anxiety should have been enough for us. But at least now we have a solid researcher and doctor on the job who is widely respected and and affirming a pro-life premise.

Mr. Theissen goes on to give some more good news on the pro-life front and reasons for hope. You are encouraged to read the remainder of his article here: Bringing Humanity Back to the Abortion Debate.

We must continue to pray mightly for conversion of hearts in the matter of abortion. We must also not neglect to to pray for women who often face difficult circumstances in preganancy.

Pray too for those who have procured abortion (whether men or women) and who now suffer the emotional and psychological trauma that often comes from such a choice. As a Church we must be prophetic and speak clearly against abortion but we must also be a place where healing and mercy are found. As evidence for fetal pain grows there may be increasing need for the Church to help post abortive women and men find healing and reconcilation as what they have done becomes more clear to them. The less abstract abortion becomes all the better for rolling back the numbers of those who claim to be pro-choice but all the more the need for the Church to continue to be that place where grace and mercy can be found.