Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is the law of the land in Nebraska

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On October 15, 2010, Nebraska’s Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (LB 1103) went into effect, a law that could be the catalyst to a significant challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.  According to the Nebraska Catholic Conference: “LB 1103 prohibits abortions after 20 weeks in utero with very narrow exceptions to prevent the death of the mother or for serious physical health risks.”
 
Signed into law by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman in April 2010, after the state’s unicameral legislature voted for it by a whopping 44-5 margin, it substitutes Roe’s viability standard (usually considered to be 22 to 24 weeks old) with the age at which an unborn child is able to feel pain (now considered by many to be 20 weeks old).  The law makes it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks gestation.
 
Nineteen witnesses testified at the bill’s hearing last February, including physicians and lawyers on both sides of the medical debate about fetal neurological development and when they begin to experience pain.  This is not a new concept.  Since the mid-1980’s, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand has researched fetal pain and his work has gained respect and support by many in the medical community.  Dr. Anand has testified before Congress and his findings were featured in a 2008 New York Times Magazine story.
 
“Nebraska does have an interest in protecting unborn lives when it can be established that the baby feels pain,” said Speaker of the Nebraska legislature and the bill’s sponsor, Mike Flood, in an interview with ABC News.
 
“My bill does not center around viability,” Flood said. “It creates a new standard.”
 
The pro-choice opposition to this bill attempted to discredit the medical evidence that a 20 week old fetus can feel pain, a position supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who stated in a press release that there is “no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus experiences pain.”
 
“The issue of fetal pain is a misnomer,” Nebraska state Senator Danielle Conrad told ABC News.  “The medical evidence is inconclusive.  The real problem with this legislation is it eviscerates what the courts have told us from Roe v. Wade forward: that the standard cannot be a bright line.  Instead, it must be an individual assessment of viability.”
 
The Nebraska law has become a new epicenter for the abortion debate.
 
“Nebraska’s law sets the course for the nation,” said National Right to Life director of state legislation, Mary Spaulding Balch, in a statement.  “In a groundbreaking and life-affirming step by the Nebraska Legislature, 20 week old pain capable unborn children will finally be protected in law.  We look forward to consideration of similar legislation in other states during the spring legislative session.”
 
“This particular Nebraska bill is not subtle at all,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told ABC News.  “It would require turning over two pillars of Roe in that states cannot establish a line of viability and the bill too narrowly defines an exception for women's health.”

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