Protecting unborn children from pain

by Teresa S. Collett

The United States Congress and the state legislatures of Michigan and New Hampshire are considering Pain-Capable Child Protection Acts. These acts would prohibit almost all abortions at twenty weeks post-fertilization and beyond. Five states--Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Idaho--already have such laws on the books. These laws are premised on the idea that an unborn child's capacity to feel pain, independent of fetal viability, is sufficient to establish the humanity of the child and to sustain a limited prohibition on abortion. Like partial-birth abortion bans, these laws advance public recognition of the unborn child's humanity and should be supported.

Objections to Pain-Capable Child Protection Acts generally fall into two categories. First, some philosophers and doctors dispute that the unborn child can "feel" pain prior to birth. Second, many abortion-rights advocates argue that, even if fetal pain exists, the Constitution does not permit states to limit access to abortions merely to prevent inflicting pain on a pre-viable fetus. Upon close examination, neither of these objections is persuasive....

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