Rep. Franks: “Protecting pain-capable unborn babies is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It is rather a test of our basic humanity”

By Dave Andrusko

Rep. Trent Franks

Rep. Trent Franks

While there was very insufficient media attention paid to the murder trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, it is also nonetheless true that because of what was learned about his “House of Horrors” the subject of late abortions is more visible than at any time since the struggle to pass the ban on partial-birth abortions.

That trial, which ended with Gosnell convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, along with allegations (according to the New York Times) that another Houston-area abortionist “had delivered live babies during third-trimester abortions and killed them after they emerged” set the stage today for a panel of the House Judiciary Committee to hold its first hearing on a nationwide Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. H.R. 1797 would protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain by generally prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks.

I watched much of a live-stream of the hearing at The testimony was nothing short of riveting. The heart-felt comments of pro-life Representatives Trent Franks (R-Az.), who chairs the subcommittee, Steve King (R-Iowa), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.) made you proud. (Rep. Goodlatte’s full statement appears at the end of this story.)

As NRLC explained in a media advisory sent out yesterday.

In the form introduced on April 26, H.R. 1797 would have applied the policy solely to the District of Columbia, but on May 17 Rep. Franks announced that he would amend the bill in committee to apply nationwide, a plan immediately strongly endorsed by NRLC. “National Right to Life strongly concurs in Congressman Franks’ decision that the time is ripe to seek protection for pain-capable unborn children nationwide,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “Because of publicity surrounding the trial of Kermit Gosnell and subsequent revelations about other abortionists, many Americans are becoming aware for the first time that abortions are frequently performed late in pregnancy on babies who are capable of being born alive, and on babies who will experience great pain while being killed.”

In his opening statement Rep. Franks made the case that just as no one sees the tragedies of children killed in a tornado or murdered in senseless school or theatre shooting as partisan issues, “Likewise protecting pain-capable unborn babies is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue,” Franks said at the hearing. “It is rather a test of our basic humanity.”

The opening witness was Anthony Levatino, MD. He explained how during his residency and first five years in private practice he’d performed first and second trimester abortions before later becoming pro-life. In the late 1970s, he testified, “saline infusion or, occasionally, prostaglandin instillation techniques” were used in second-trimester abortions.

But “These procedures were difficult, expensive and necessitated that patients go through labor to abort their pre-born children,” he said. “By 1980, at the time I entered private practice first in Florida and then in upstate New York, those of us in the abortion industry were looking for a more efficient method of second trimester abortion. The Suction D&E procedure offered clear advantages over older installation methods. The procedure was much quicker and never ran the risk of a live birth.”

He then went on to explain what that entails and it is enough to make the strongest stomach churn. (That section of his prepared testimony can be read at “Excerpts from the Testimony of Anthony Levatino, MD, before the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice U.S. House of Representatives.”)


There were three other witnesses, including Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D. University of Utah, School of Medicine, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy. Among other topics Prof. Condic walked the subcommittee members through a series of steps beginning with “What is Pain?”;“How do we know if others are experiencing pain?”; “Scientific data regarding fetal brain development and pain perception”; “What brain structures are necessary for a fetus to feel pain?”; “What we observe about fetal pain”; and “Our own experience; Why fetal pain matters.”

Her conclusion:

In light of the scientific facts, the observations of medical professionals, our own experience of pain, and our indirect experience of others’ pain, we must conclude that there is indeed a “compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain.” And this unambiguously requires a 20 week fetus to be protected from pain, as proposed under H.R. 1797.

Near the end of the hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, in explaining why this bill is so important, Franks quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Protecting pain-capable unborn children from abortion is something that matters and we cannot be silent about it.

We will have much more about the hearing in Friday’s edition of NRL News Today.

The Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Hearing on H.R. 1797, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Chairman Goodlatte: Since the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, medical knowledge regarding the development of unborn babies and their capacities at various stages of growth has advanced dramatically. Even the New York Times has reported on the latest research on unborn pain, focusing in particular on the research of Dr. Sunny Anand, an Oxford-trained neonatal pediatrician who has held appointments at Harvard Medical School and other distinguished institutions.

According to the New York Times: Twenty-five years ago … [d]octors were convinced that newborns’ nervous systems were too immature to sense pain … Anand resolved to find out if this was true. In a series of clinical trials, he demonstrated that operations performed under minimal or no anesthesia produced a “massive stress response” in newborn babies, releasing a flood of fight-or-flight hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Potent anesthesia, he found, could significantly reduce this reaction … But Anand was not through with making observations. [He] noticed that even the most premature babies grimaced when pricked by a needle … New evidence, however, has persuaded him that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks gestation … and possibly earlier.

As Dr. Anand would later testify: “If the fetus is beyond 20 weeks of gestation, I would assume that there will be pain caused to the fetus. And I believe it will be severe and excruciating pain.”

Congress has the power to acknowledge these developments by enacting H.R. 1797 and prohibiting abortions after the point at which scientific evidence shows the unborn can feel pain, with limited exceptions.

The terrifying facts uncovered during the course of the trial of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, and successive reports of similar atrocities committed across the country, remind us how an atmosphere of insensitivity can lead to horrific brutality. The grand jury report in the Gosnell case itself contains references to a neonatal expert who reported that the cutting of the spinal cords of babies intended to be late-term aborted would cause them, and I quote, “a tremendous amount of pain.” These facts justify expanding the application of this bill nationwide, and I fully support Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Franks’ intention to do so.

Indeed, the Polling Company recently found that 64% of Americans would support a law such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Only 30% would oppose it. And supporters include 47% of those who identified themselves as “pro-choice” in the poll.

In the 2007 case of Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court made clear that — and I quote — “The government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman,” and that Congress may show such respect for the unborn through “specific regulation because it implicates additional ethical and moral concerns that justify a special prohibition.”

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the Carhart case, also wrote that the government has “an interest in forbidding medical procedures which, in the [government’s] reasonable determination, might cause the medical profession or society as a whole to become insensitive, even disdainful, to life, including life in the human fetus … even life which cannot survive without the assistance of others.”

As the New York Times story concluded, throughout history “a presumed insensitivity to pain has been used to exclude some from humanity’s privileges and protections … Over time, the charmed circle of those considered alive to pain, and therefore fully human, has widened to include members of other religions and races, the poor, the criminal, the mentally ill — and, thanks to the work of Sunny Anand and others, the very young.”

The Gosnell trial reminds us that when newborn babies are cut with scissors, they whimper and cry, and flinch from pain. But it takes only a moment’s thought to realize that wherever babies are cut, they whimper and cry, and flinch from pain. Delivered or not, babies are babies, and they can feel pain at 20 weeks. It is time to welcome young children who can feel pain into the human family. And this bill, at last, will do just that.

I congratulate Chairman Franks on this vital legislation, and look forward to hearing from all our witnesses today.