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Senate Votes on 20-Week Abortion Ban

Updated Jan. 30, 2018 after the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the bill.

The Senate last night failed to gather the necessary votes to proceed on bill that would have banned abortion from 20 weeks post-conception, a point in pregnancy which scientists have found the unborn child may experience pain.

Last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that the Senate would attempt a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (S. 2311) this week.

In his address to the March for Life in Washington, DC this month, President Trump expressed his support for the abortion ban. “I call upon the Senate to pass this important law and send it to my desk for signing,” the President said.

Although Republicans have a 51-vote majority in the Senate, 60 votes are needed to close the debate and put the bill to an up or down vote. The bill failed to advance last night by a vote of 51 to 46. Three Democrats (Casey–PA, Donnelly–IN, and Manchin–WV) along with 48 Republicans voted in favor of putting the bill to a vote. Two Republicans (Collins–ME and Murkowski–AK) and 44 Democrats voted against the bill while three Senators did not vote: Sens. Baldwin (D–WI), McCain (R–AZ), and Nelson (D–FL).

“We must defend those who cannot defend themselves,” a statement issued by President Trump in response to the Senate’s failure to pass S.2311 reads, “I urge the Senate to reconsider its decision and pass legislation that will celebrate, cherish, and protect life.”

Despite largely Democrat opposition to the bill, an overwhelming majority of Americans support drastically limiting the circumstances when women can get an abortion in the United States. A nationally-representative Knights of Columbus/Marist poll released earlier this month found that 76% of Americans believe that abortion should be restricted to the first three months of pregnancy or to cases of life of the mother, rape, and incest.

The same poll found that 78% of Independents, 78% of women, 64% of young people (18-29 years of age), and even 61% of Democrats believe that abortion should only be allowed in the first trimester, or in cases of life, rape, and incest. This is consistent with last year’s Knights of Columbus/Marist poll that found that 74% of Americans believe in limiting abortion to these circumstances and a 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll which found that an overwhelming majority of Americans support limiting abortion to less than 20 weeks into the pregnancy in particular.

Many states already have laws in place banning abortion after 19 weeks post-conception. According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 19 states prohibit abortion after this point in pregnancy, with some exceptions that vary by state. Another two states, Arizona and Idaho, put  20 week bans in place only to have their bans overturned by the courts. Two states, North Carolina and Mississippi, have limited abortion to 20 weeks as calculated from the last menstrual period (LMP), effectively limiting abortion to roughly 18 weeks into the pregnancy.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act now before the U.S. Senate would ban all abortion in the United States at or after 20 weeks post-conception (“post-fertilization”), with exceptions for the life and physical health of the mother as well as in cases of rape and incest involving a minor. Abortion providers who violate the law would face a fine, up to 5 years in prison, or both.

PRI President Steven Mosher says “public sentiment continues to shift away from abortion-on-demand to placing ever stricter limits on this life-destroying procedure. A ban on abortions after 20 weeks is an important step towards one day banning all abortions.”

There is mounting evidence that unborn children are able to feel pain by 20 weeks post-conception, and perhaps well before.

Pro-abortion advocates often dismiss concerns over whether infants feel pain in utero as merely a philosophical question. They claim that there is no direct evidence that they are actually capable of experiencing pain, often arguing that a fully functioning cerebral cortex is necessary to feel pain.

However, according to Doctors on Fetal Pain, a fully functioning cerebral cortex is not necessary for an unborn child (or even for adults) to feel pain. Rather, stimulation of the thalamus alone is sufficient to sense pain. Researchers believe that the thalamus is able to receive nerve signaling by at least 20 weeks into the pregnancy, if not sooner. According to one study, pain nerve signaling to the cortex is present as early as 16 weeks gestation.[1] And according to another study, the evidence indicates that the thalamus generates physiochemical and endocrine responses to pain by 18 weeks.[2]

It is precisely because unborn children are capable of experiencing pain at or before they reach 20 weeks gestation that most doctors who perform fetal surgery administer anesthesia to the child beforehand. As quoted by Doctors on Fetal Pain, according to one textbook on fetal surgery “It has also been shown that fetuses feel pain from week 18. This has given rise to the practice of using fetal anesthesia for surgery or invasive diagnostic procedures in utero.”

We also have the testimony of Dr. Jean Wright, who is a Professor of Pediatrics at the Mercer School of Medicine. “By 20 weeks, and perhaps even earlier, all the essential components of anatomy, physiology, and neurobiology exist to transmit painful sensations from the skin to the spinal cord and to the brain,” Dr. Wright testified before a subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary in 2005.

Abortionists ignore the evidence that unborn children are capable of experiencing pain, and never administer anesthesia, guaranteeing that their late-second and third-trimester victims experience excruciating pain as they are being dismembered.

A civilized society would not permit such atrocities to continue.


Correction: Previous article said the Senate bill of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was H.R. 36. This is the identical House version of the bill. The Senate version is S.2311. Previous article left out S.2311’s exceptions for rape and incest.



[1] Van de Velde M, De Buck F. Fetal and maternal analgesia/anesthesia for fetal procedures. Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy 2012;31(4):201.

[2] Brusseau R. Developmental perspectives: Is the fetus conscious?. International Anesthesiology Clinics 2008 Jul 1;46(3):11-23.



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