The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (H.R. 1797), sponsored by Representative Trent Franks, would ban most abortions in the United States at 20 weeks after fertilization. The bill threatens providers with fines and/or imprisonment, clearly intended to intimidate and discourage doctors from providing abortion care. This legislation endangers women by criminalizing safe, legal abortion. With only a narrow and inadequate exception for the life and health of a woman, H.R. 1797 would place doctors in the untenable position of denying abortions to women in need, including women carrying a pregnancy with severe and lethal anomalies, which are sometimes not diagnosed until 20 weeks or later.
The following stories from our physicians all demonstrate the need for later abortion, and the danger posed by abortion bans like H.R. 1797.
Dr. Robin Wallace, Dallas, Texas: Take, for example, “Lisa,” and her husband, “Tom.” As a loving mother of two, Lisa eagerly awaited the results of her 20-week ultrasound during her third pregnancy. Unfortunately, they discovered multiple organ abnormalities, which meant their son would be born not only with neurologic deficits but also needing intensive hospital care and surgery, with only a small chance of survival or ever going home. Lisa and Tom made the heartbreaking decision to end this pregnancy at 22 weeks and prevent their son from experiencing any suffering at birth. If this 20-week ban were to pass, patients like Lisa would be left with nowhere to turn.
Dr. Kathleen Morrell of New York, New York, takes care of women with complicated, high-risk pregnancies. She knows that this ban would hurt the women she cares for. She remembers her patient Holly, who had a wanted pregnancy. Holly discovered at 22 weeks that her baby had a deadly form of skeletal dysplasia. She also remembers her patient Shanna, who at 21 weeks found out that her baby had a severe cardiac anomaly. After consulting with specialists, both of these women decided that ending the pregnancy was the safest, most humane thing to do. HR 1797 takes away medical decision-making ability from women and their families, replacing medical guidance with political judgment. This is wrong.
Dr. Rebecca Mercier, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Susan was a woman in her 30’s with two healthy children who wanted one more child; she and her husband were very happy to find out she was pregnant. Sadly, her ultrasound at 19 weeks showed that her fetus had a severe problem with his kidneys. If the pregnancy were carried to term, the baby would have only lived at most for a few days. This was devastating to the family. After much discussion they decided to have an abortion at 20 weeks. Susan simply couldn’t face the months of carrying a pregnancy knowing she would have to watch her child die; she worried that her young children ages 4 and 6 would suffer from the experience as well. She was able to have an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and did so knowing she was making a choice to protect herself and her family. Read More