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Fla. Bill Would Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks Based on 'Fetal Pain'

Fla. Bill Would Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks Based on 'Fetal Pain'

December 21, 2011 — Florida Rep. Daniel Davis (R) has filed a bill (HB 839) that would ban abortion care after 20 weeks of pregnancy, when many abortion-rights opponents claim that a fetus begins to feel pain, the Florida Times-Union reports (Dixon, Florida Times-Union, 12/20).

Six states have passed laws based on the theory, which conflicts with research concluding that fetuses do not develop the ability to feel pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/27). Other research has found that premature infants begin to discern pain from touch at about 35 to 37 weeks of gestation -- about two to four weeks before typical delivery -- which "suggests that brain maturation required for fetal pain perception occurs in late pregnancy, more than 11 weeks after the legal limit for abortion in the United States," according to the study's authors (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/13).

Davis' bill includes exceptions if a pregnancy threatens a woman's life or could cause her "substantial and irreversible physical impairment," but it would not allow abortions after 20 weeks for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. A similar bill was filed last year but did not pass.

Helen Strain, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of North Florida, pledged to fight the legislation, adding that it "deprives the woman and her doctor [of] the ability to make a very personal decision."

Davis acknowledged that the bill would face opposition but added, "This was brought to me by constituents, and I think it's the right thing to do" (Florida Times-Union, 12/20).