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Baby Steps

Congress holds hearing on late-term abortion ban’s merits

Trent Franks / AP
• May 23, 2013 1:50 pm

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Abortionists went into grisly detail about late-term abortions during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday for a law that would ban the practice.

The bill, titled the "District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

As currently written, the bill would outlaw abortions after the cutoff date only in the District of Columbia, over which Congress has exclusive legislative jurisdiction. Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), the bill’s sponsor and the chairman of the subcommittee holding the hearing, has pledged to amend the bill so it covers the entire United States.

Witnesses described the most common abortion procedure used after the 20 week cutoff and outlined the medical evidence showing that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks and earlier, according to their written testimony.

Anthony Levatino, a gynecologist from New Mexico who has performed over a thousand abortions, described in great detail the "suction, dilation, and evacuation" abortion procedure typically used for second trimester abortions.

After mechanically sucking out the baby’s amniotic fluid, the doctor removes parts of the baby using toothed forceps, Levantino testified.

"Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you. Congratulations! You have just successfully performed a second trimester Suction D&E abortion," Levantino testified.

"If you refuse to believe that this procedure inflicts severe pain on that unborn child, please think again," he told the committee, according to his written testimony. Levantino delivered almost identical testimony last year in support of a pervious version of this bill.

Maureen Condic, a professor of neurobiology and pediatrics at the University of Utah medical school, outlined the neurological and medical evidence that babies can feel pain 20 weeks after conception.

The spinal reflex has developed after eight weeks, "the earliest point at which the fetus experiences pain in any capacity," Condic said in her written testimony.

The spinal cord and the part of the brain responsible for pain perception begin to connect at 12 weeks, and the connection is complete by 18 weeks, Condic said.

"There is universal agreement that pain is detected by the fetus in the first trimester. The debate concerns how pain is experienced; i.e., whether a fetus has the same pain experience a newborn or an adult would have," she said in her written testimony.

Condic acknowledged that her argument runs against the position of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and others but contended that medical evidence contradicts the society’s claims.

While three of the four witnesses testified in support of the bill, one described her personal experience of choosing to abort her 21 week old son after doctors discovered that her son’s brain had not developed properly.

The baby had effectively failed to develop one half of the brain as well as the connective tissue between the two halves, Christy Zink told the committee.

"This condition could not have been detected earlier in my pregnancy. Only the brain scan could have found it. … If the baby survived the pregnancy, which was not certain, his condition would require surgeries to remove more of what little brain matter he had, to diminish what would otherwise be a state of near-constant seizures," Zink said, according to her written testimony.

The premise of the bill, to prevent pain, "is a lie," Zink contended.

"The decision I made to have an abortion at almost 22 weeks was made out of love and to spare my son’s pain and suffering," she said, calling the abortion "the most difficult decision of [her and her husband’s] lives."

The bill comes on the heels of the conviction of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell on three counts of first-degree murder for killing three babies after botched abortions.

Franks cited the Gosnell case as the reason for wanting to expand the bill to cover the entire country.

"The case of Kermit Gosnell shocked the sensibilities of millions of Americans. However, the crushing fact is that abortions on babies just like the ones killed by Kermit Gosnell have been happening hundreds of times per day, every single day, for the past 40 years," Franks said in a statement last week announcing his intention to expand the bill nationwide.

Franks’s pledge earned immediate condemnation by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"Rep. Franks is using this bill in a shameless effort to exploit the terrible tragedy in Pennsylvania where Kermit Gosnell was just convicted of murder for performing illegal abortions that resulted in killing of infants and women. The women of America deserve better," NARAL president Ilyse Hogue said in a statement on Friday.

Planned Parenthood on Wednesday called on Franks to cancel Thursday’s hearing after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arizona law outlawing abortion after 20 weeks.

The 9th Circuit reaffirmed the Supreme Court’s decision that abortion cannot be outlawed before the baby is viable outside the womb, which has been roughly set at 24 weeks.