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Catholics for a Free Choice’s Statement on Brownback Bill on Fetal Anesthesia

January 26, 2005

Statement of Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice

WASHINGTON, DC — Today Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) announced his intention to file “The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act” (S.51), a bill mandating that doctors who provide abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation inform women of the possibility that fetuses at that gestation may feel pain.

It is hard to understand why the senator, who is opposed to legal abortion except in the most extreme circumstances, is introducing legislation that will result in anti abortion terms in tacit cooperation with an “evil” act (abortion). We thus have some concern that the bill is not a genuine attempt to alleviate fetal suffering.

Nonetheless, Catholics for a Free Choice’s principles in regard to abortion include both respect for a woman’s right to choose abortion and a commitment to treating fetuses with respect. We support existing regulations regarding scientific experiments that codify that respect for human tissue, embryos, fetuses and human persons. And so we will take the senator at his word that his intention in this bill is not to ban abortion or frighten women, but to show compassion for the fetus.

We share the senator’s concern for the possibility that fetuses might feel pain and—whether or not there is legislation on this subject—we believe standard medical protocols for abortion should include the provision of this information to women and the availability of fetal anesthesia should women request it.

We are not absolutely opposed to some form of legislation on this matter and we urge Senator Brownback to amend his legislation so that it might truly show respect for fetuses, women and health professionals. Among our suggestions are:

  1. A provision for payment of the costs associated with administering fetal anesthesia. The senator must understand that if such funds are not made available, the chances that a woman can afford this service are slim. Fetuses will not receive anesthesia if the senator does not fund the service.
  2. The elimination of a mandated speech to be read by doctors. Every woman is a unique person, different from every other. She should be approached by doctors and other health professionals in a compassionate manner, at a time that is conducive to her receiving information and in words attuned to her level of insight, interest and knowledge. Additionally, the senator’s requirement for intrusive forms of written acknowledgment needs modification. Written informed consent is important but also requires careful crafting.

Such changes, combined with a strong call for informed consent and the availability of anesthesia for post-20 week fetuses, is something that those who are opposed to legal abortion and those who are in favor of it should be able to support. The majority of Americans are looking to both communities for less absolutist approaches to the issue of abortion that include respect for women’s rights and fetal value. This bill may be an opportunity for both sides of the debate to demonstrate that commitment. It may also be yet another example of antiabortion grandstanding.


Read Frances Kissling’s article “Is There Life After Roe?”