Georgia Legislature Passes Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

By Dave Andrusko

In the face of fierce opposition, lawmakers in Georgia passed a version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on the last day of the session. House Bill 954 nearly died in a disagreement between the two houses, but a compromise version passed with just minutes remaining in the 2012 session. The bill was sent to Gov. Nathan Deal (R) for his signature.

According to Georgia Right to Life spokesperson Dan Becker, the bill is expected to save ”roughly 1,500 lives a year.”

The Senate version was weaker than the House bill which would have prohibited all abortion 20 weeks after fertilization, a point at which scientific evidence shows that the unborn child is capable of feeling pain. With a deadline looming, the final version of the bill contained a provision allowing abortion when the unborn child has “a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth.” The final language also included that this diagnosis “must be a medical judgment that would be made by a reasonably prudent physician, knowledgeable about the case and the treatment possibilities with respect to the medical conditions involved.”

Mary Boyert, who lobbies for pro-life legislation on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, said the final bill reflects legislative compromises and has flaws, but “will immediately save many lives by prohibiting all ‘elective’ abortion after 20 weeks,”  as well as those for handicaps such as Down Syndrome, and rape or incest.  In addition, Boyert wrote, “the ‘life of the mother’ exception is now truly for the life of the mother only, and not the permissive ‘health’ exception in our current law.”

If Deal signs the bill, Georgia would become the sixth state with a pain-capable unborn child protection act, joining Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Idaho. None of the enacted laws have faced any serious legal challenge to date.

In addition, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act has been introduced in both houses of Congress.  The House bill, H.R. 3803, introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az.) on January 23, 2012, currently has 160 cosponsors.  (218 constitutes an absolute majority in the 435-member House.) The Senate bill, S. 2103, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), currently has 10 cosponsors.

In this legislation, Congress would declare that at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, an unborn child has the capacity to experience pain—and, on that basis, the bill would prohibit abortions within the District of Columbia (except when acute physical problems endanger the life of the mother) from that point on (from about the beginning of the sixth month, in layperson’s terminology).

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