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October 1, 2010

Transcript Of Sen. Johanns' Introduction Of His Bill To Protect Unborn Children From Needless Pain

I rise today to discuss an issue that I believe does cross the political divide; and that issue is, protecting children from needless pain. Forty years ago, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, it was believed that babies simply did not feel pain. At that time, the medical community thought a baby's nervous system was not yet developed enough to have a sense of pain, so surgeries were literally performed with no anesthesia. Parents were told not to worry if it appeared their child was in pain.

We found out the medical community was wrong.

Twenty-five years ago, a doctor at Oxford University proved that newborn babies do, in fact, feel pain. His groundbreaking research was inspired by his own recognition of the signs of pain.

Dr. Anand noticed preterm babies returning from operations with weak pulses, with rapid heart rates, and other signs of stress that would typically be associated with the feeling of pain.

As a result, he studied two groups of babies. One went through surgery without anesthesia, as was the practice at that time. A second group was given anesthesia before the surgery took place.

The results were remarkable. Most of the babies who were given pain medicine sailed through the procedures while the babies who were given no pain medicine suffered significant stress. This study opened the eyes of the medical community, shifting both medical opinion and common practice.

Today, pain relief for infants is now the standard of care. If my child needed surgery today, and a doctor told us it would be done without anesthesia, without pain medicine for the baby, we would walk straight out of the door; and any parent would.

Performing surgery on an infant without pain medicine is unimaginable today, despite having been common practice, the accepted standard of care 40 years ago. Medical research shattered a commonly held belief, and it changed medicine forever.

I stand before you today in recognition that medical research has again advanced. Again, it should shatter a misguided assumption. You see, doctors now perform surgery on unborn babies. They can go into the womb and save a baby as young as 20 weeks old.

This has allowed researchers to study reactions to pain by these unborn babies. The eye-opening results simply cannot be denied. Much like the original groundbreaking study of newborns,the research involving unborn babies presented evidence that they feel pain.

When pain medicine was administered during surgery involving unborn children, their blood flow, their heart rate remained normal. But without pain medicine, blood flow and heart rate were affected, as unborn babies endured the pain.

The medical evidence is so compelling it alone should inspire us to act. But we do not have to rely upon a doctor's research. All of my colleagues have surely seen with their own eyes the breathtaking images from ultrasounds. Perhaps it was the picture of a child or a grandchild that showed a face and fingers and toes. Some might have been lucky enough to be in the room for a checkup and actually listened to that heartbeat.

There is no denying that those fingers and toes--that face, that heartbeat--is about a baby, a tiny, little miracle that can feel pain. Pretending there is some magical line that is crossed at the moment of birth that allows a baby to feel pain is literally absurd. There is no such line. There is no difference in the pain a baby begins feeling about halfway through pregnancy and the pain a newborn baby feels.

Just as the medical community now admits it was wrong to assert that newborns feel no pain, we know it is wrong to say unborn children feel no pain. But while medical science has moved forward and taken this step, our laws and our practices still rely on decades-old information and mistaken beliefs.

So it is time for us to acknowledge in law and in practice the realities revealed by these advancements in medical science. We must be willing to change our mindset based upon this evidence, and I would suggest we have an obligation to do so.

Mothers have a right to know that their unborn babies feel pain. Respected doctors are on record saying that abortions in the second and third trimester likely cause unborn babies ``intense pain.'' How can we claim to be compassionate, yet look the other way in denial of this pain? I would suggest we cannot. We can see these precious faces. We can hear their hearts beat.

That is why the legislation I am introducing today is so critically important. The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would merely require those who perform abortions 20 weeks into a pregnancy or later to inform the mother that her unborn child feels pain. And the mother may request anesthesia for that child to lessen the pain if she does not choose life.

Women should not be kept in the dark. They have the right to know what their unborn child will feel during an abortion. And those who provide abortions should not dismiss the reality of the anguish. The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act says: At the very least, let's provide mothers with the complete medical and scientific research we have at our disposal today. Let's simply provide the truth before they make a life-changing decision. We cannot in good conscience know of this medical reality and fail to share it with mothers who are contemplating the most difficult and consequential decision of their entire lives.

Our country is awakening to the reality of the pain felt by unborn children but slowly, just as we were slow to accept that newborn babies, yes, in fact, do feel pain so many years ago. Thankfully, our States are leading the way when Congress has failed to act. Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah have passed similar legislation. Several other States include information about the pain an unborn child experiences in their counseling materials. In fact, in my home State of Nebraska, we became the first State to ban abortions after 20 weeks on the basis that an unborn child can, in fact, feel pain.

Unborn children cannot tell us what they feel, but medical research cries out on their behalf. They deserve the same human compassion we show newborns, 2-year-olds, and children of every age. They all feel pain.

So I encourage my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring this legislation. Thus far, 18 Senators have signed on, and I hope more will follow. I would suggest that this legislation has little to do with whether you call yourself pro-life or pro-choice. It is about basic human decency and concern for human suffering. I hope my colleagues will review the medical research, look to their conscience, and follow what is right. I hope they join me in cosponsoring this legislation.

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