By Mary Spaulding Balch, JD, and Karen Cross
Over the weekend the West Virginia House and Senate put the finishing touches on a hugely important bill. If Gov. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs HB 4588– The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act– West Virginia’s unborn babies, who can feel pain, will be protected from abortion. If there is not a compelling state interest in protecting unborn children from such a hideous death, what would qualify?
If Gov. Tomblin signs the bill into law, West Virginia will join ten other states and the United States House of Representatives that have passed similar bills. If Governor Tomblin signs the bill into law, he will be recognizing what huge majorities in both the House and Senate saw clearly. That HB 4588 is grounded in a moral empathy that resonates loudly with the people of West Virginia: “You don’t kill unborn children who are capable of feeling pain.” If Governor Tomblin signs the bill into law, he will be doing the right thing.
Opponents act as if science stopped in 1973. Ironically, they say proponents want to “take us back.” That is the exact opposite of the truth.
Rather than freezing our understanding of fetal development at what was available to the U.S. Supreme Court more than four decades ago, the bill invites us to look into the window of the womb so that we might know now what we couldn’t know then.
Indeed – because of advancements in science – we know immeasurably more about the developing unborn child than we did in the early 1970’s when Roe v. Wade was decided.
Forty-one years ago, the unborn child, for the most part, did not exist in medicine. But now, with advancements in ultrasound, we can literally see the unborn child and we have the ability to perform fetal surgery to correct problems in utero. Fetal surgery is now frequently occurring at several hospitals around the country and it is recommended that anesthesia be administered when the unborn child has reached 20 weeks of development.
We also know that by eight (8) weeks after fertilization, the unborn child reacts to touch. And that after twenty (20) weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to you or me. With ultrasound, we can see the unborn child recoil away from the painful stimuli.
And, as noted, we also know that for the purposes of surgery on unborn children, fetal anesthesia is administered and that this is associated with a decrease in stress hormones compared to their level when painful stimuli are applied without such anesthesia.
Is the bill constitutional? The United States Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of whether the state can pass a law protecting the lives of unborn babies who are capable of feeling pain because it is based on information which wasn’t available in 1973. But based on this new knowledge, there is an excellent chance that a majority of the Court will say it is.
Please call Governor Tomblin at 304.558.2000 and ask him to protect our precious unborn babies by signing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, House Bill 4588. Or you could send the governor a message online here.
Governor Tomblin should sign HB 4588. It is the right thing to do.