Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman put his signature to an historic bill April 13 banning abortions of pre-born babies beyond 20 weeks from conception. The enactment of the legislation makes Nebraska the first state with a law directly challenging the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The Abortion Pain Prevention Act (L.B. 1103), which had near unanimous support of the state’s one-house legislature, was advanced on the strong evidence that a pre-born baby’s brain develops the sensory capacity for pain at around 21 weeks. “I feel the state has a legitimate and substantial interest in protecting the life of an unborn child at 20 weeks,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Mike Flood.
Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center noted that extensive studies have determined that pre-born babies are “very likely” to show extreme sensitivity to pain during 20 to 30 weeks after conception. “This is based on multiple lines of evidence,” he said, “— not just the lack of descending inhibitory fibers, but also the number of receptors in the skin, the level of expression of various chemicals, neurotransmitters, receptors, and things like that.”
Dr. Jean Wright, an anesthesiologist specializing in pediatric critical care, testified to Congress that “an unborn fetus after 20 weeks of gestation has all the prerequisite anatomy, physiology, hormones, neurotransmitters, and electrical current to close the loop and create the conditions needed to perceive pain. In a fashion similar to explaining the electrical wiring to a new house, we would explain that the circuit is complete from skin to brain and back.”
Similarly, Dr. Richard T.F. Schmidt, past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, noted, “It can be clearly demonstrated that fetuses seek to evade certain stimuli in a manner which an infant or an adult would be interpreted as a reaction to pain.”
In addition to banning abortions beyond 20 weeks, the new law closes a loop hole that would allow a woman to cite her mental health as a reason for having an abortion past the cut-off. Striking the “mental health” exception represents a huge blow to Nebraska’s most notorious abortionist, LeRoy Carhart, who reportedly performs abortions at 22 weeks and later if medical or mental justification can be found. Abortion opponents expressed their hope that the new law would force Carhart to close up shop in Nebraska.