Sensible Fetal Pain Laws


South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley recently signed a law restricting abortion after 19 weeks of pregnancy. Citing fetal pain science, South Carolina joins 16 other states that have passed legal protections for unborn babies halfway through pregnancy. The first state to pass such a law was Nebraska, in 2010.

The immediate impact of this first fetal pain law was that the notorious late-term abortionist, Leroy Carhart, moved his practice from Nebraska to the less abortion restrictive state of Maryland. For the past six years, he has conducted abortions on babies that are fully five months of gestation or more at nearby Germantown Reproductive Health Services, about a twenty-minute drive from the Nation’s Capital.

In the early 2000s, Leroy Carhart became a “hero” and the “face” of partial-birth abortion and late term abortion as the plaintiff in two lawsuits, Stenberg v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Carhart. He has been quoted saying, “I … feel like I’m doing God’s work.” He once told a Kansas TV reporter: “I see the anti-choice movement as nothing different from the Taliban.”

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund exists to build a culture of life and love. Our goal is to defend and protect life at any stage, acknowledging that abortion takes the life of one and wounds the other. That said, late term abortion is physically much harder on women for obvious reasons; as the baby develops and the pregnancy progresses, the more difficult and risky the procedure becomes.

To that point, Carhart is currently under congressional investigation after reports recently became public that five women from his clinic over the course of six months needed to be hospitalized. Subpoenas have been issued to both Carhart and Germantown Reproductive Health Services so that more information can be ascertained.

Who is impacted by measures similar to South Carolina’s fetal pain bill? The large majority of abortions in our country occur before 12 weeks of gestation.  While the U.S. does not have abortion reporting requirements, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects voluntary data. The general estimate is that approximately 15,000-18,000 abortions occur after 21 weeks in the U.S. annually.

Why do women have abortions so far along in the pregnancy? The lack of government reporting requirements translate to very little hard public data but one source, Ron Fitzsimmons, former Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, in an interview with the New York Times estimated that in the majority of cases, abortions performed at 20 weeks or later are on a healthy baby and healthy mother.

Another important aspect of these laws is that they are reflective of what Americans want. Late-term abortion is not at all popular with the American people, even those who identify as pro-choice. A Marist poll from earlier this year revealed that as many as 8 out of 10 Americans believe that abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy. And even for those who self-identify as pro-choice, a large majority —66%– agree that abortion should be limited at most to the first three months of pregnancy.

As the work of Leroy Carhart continues to come to the light through the congressional investigation, and as more states continue to enact laws limiting late-term abortion, let’s be honest that fetal pain laws are common sense – they protect women and babies and have the support of the majority of Americans.

Sometimes people ask if incremental laws have an impact. The proof is evident.

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