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US House panel approves 'fetal pain' bill

The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] on Wednesday voted 20-12 [press release] in favor of legislation which would ban most abortions in the US after 20 weeks gestation. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act [HR 1797, PDF] is based on the controversial premise that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks of gestation. As stated [text] by the subcommittee's Chairman Bob Goodlatte, "Congress has the power to acknowledge these developments by enacting HR 1797 and prohibiting abortions after the point at which scientific evidence shows the unborn can feel pain, with limited exceptions." A vote by the full House of Representatives [official website] could occur as early as next week [NYT report].

Several US states have recently enacted legislation barring abortions after 20 weeks. In April North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple [official website] signed into law [JURIST report] a measure banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation based on the premise of fetal pain. The North Dakota House of Representatives [official website] passed [JURIST report] the bill the Friday before, and it was approved by the North Dakota Senate in February. In March Judge Lynn Winmill of the US District Court for the District of Idaho [official website] struck down [JURIST report] Idaho's "fetal pain" statute, which banned most abortions after 20 weeks. Winmill struck down the law as placing an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion and as unconstitutionally vague in its criminal sanctions. In April 2011 Kansas Governor Sam Brownback [official website] signed into law two pieces of legislation restricting abortions in the state: the Abortion Reporting Accuracy and Parental Rights Act [HB 2035, PDF], which requires unemancipated minors to obtain notarized parental signatures before an abortion may be performed; and the "fetal pain bill" [HB 2218, PDF], which restricts abortions beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy.

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