Congress, Pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Congress, Pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media via AP

When Ed Sheeran’s concert tour made a swing through Washington recently, one of his saddest yet sweetest songs wasn’t on the set list. Sheeran’s fans know “Small Bump” as a precious ballad that captures the heartache of a parent losing a child before birth, in this case a baby stillborn at 5 months of pregnancy: “You are my one and only … finger nails the size of a half grain of rice and eyelids closed to be soon opened wide … ‘Cause you were just a small bump unborn … then torn from life.”

Of course, we would all mourn the loss of a baby at this stage of development, because we all know that whether it’s a small bump or a big bump, it’s a baby bump. We’ve seen images of the standard 20-week ultrasound, in which those tiny fingernails “the size of a half grain of rice” are plainly visible. Babies at this stage are so fully formed they already have distinct fingerprints, are yawning, hiccupping, sucking their thumbs, and have working taste buds. Some can even survive if born.

One such survivor was on Capitol Hill last week. Micah Pickering, born at just 20-weeks (about 5 months of pregnancy), is now an adorable 5-year-old with a ready smile and a mop of curly light brown hair. Micah and his parents appeared at a press conference hosted by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to press for passage of a bill to ban abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy, The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36).  

Micah’s parents can tell you that a premature baby at 20 weeks, whether born or unborn, can feel pain. They could not even touch him when he was first born because his skin was so sensitive. The doctors were careful to administer pain medication to him prior to any procedures, just as surgeons routinely give anesthesia to babies inside the womb prior to the performance of in-utero surgery. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is premised on the idea that a humane society should likewise not allow babies at this stage to be subject to the pain of abortion.

The House votes on the bill Tuesday, and action will soon follow in the Senate under the leadership of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The bill will have nearly unanimous support from Republicans, but it will be interesting to watch the vote breakdown on the Democratic side. When Congress last considered a ban on late-term abortions, known as partial-birth abortion, about one-third of Democrats supported it, including then Senators Biden, Daschle, Leahy, and Moynihan, who famously said it was “too close to infanticide.” 

Yet, the abortion lobby will demand that pro-choice members oppose the bill and appeal to Roe v. Wade. But Roe’s “viability” standard has always been on a collision course with science. Not only has the development of high-resolution ultrasound given us the clear visual evidence to see life inside the womb and to conclude that a fetus is a baby, advances in medical technology have also made it possible to save premature babies like Micah much earlier. A 2015 New England Journal of Medicine study documented such cases and raised questions about the moving target of fetal viability. Roe’s framework is collapsing on itself.

Abortion groups dodge the viability question by claiming that late abortions are necessary in cases where babies are diagnosed with disabilities. Does the United States really want to move in the direction of countries like Iceland, which recently “eliminated” Down’s Syndrome through abortion? In those tragic and rare cases where babies have severe anomalies and receive a fatal diagnosis, is it not better to let for those little ones slip away peacefully and naturally, rather than suffer the sudden violence of abortion? 

A compassionate society should protect its tiniest and most vulnerable members — like Micah Pickering at five months of pregnancy. Congress should pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. 

Maureen Ferguson is Senior Policy Advisor with The Catholic Association.

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