House Bill 954, a pro-life bill, passed the General Assembly after a compromise was reached amid much drama.
The law will protect children who have reached 22 weeks from the mother’s last menstrual period from elective termination, at a time when the baby can experience pain and even survive the delivery.
Exceptions were made for women whose lives are in physical danger and “medically futile” pregnancies in which the doctor determined the baby had a defect or chromosomal abnormality “incompatible with life.”
All premature terminations of pregnancies at 22 to 26 weeks because the mother desires it or the baby has a non-lethal birth defect are now criminalized and must be reported, confidentially, to the state.
The law applies to babies who are 20 weeks or more past fertilization, which would be 22 weeks gestation by the usual obstetric calculation of gestational age; information conveyed to the medical community did not explain this.
Concern over adequate time to act on a prenatal diagnosis of a non-lethal anomaly is unfounded, as an amniocentesis for chromosomal defects, done at 16 to 20 weeks, has a turnaround time of five to 10 days, giving the parents time to terminate, if they so desire.
Over half the premature babies born at 23 to 24 weeks gestation survive to leave the hospital and are considered at the “limit of viability.”
Abortion is defined as “the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability.” A procedure done after 22 weeks to terminate the pregnancy is no longer an abortion. Many people do not realize that there are abortion clinics in Atlanta advertising abortions up to 26 weeks, and that 1,300 terminations are reported at 22 weeks or later each year in Georgia.
Abundant scientific evidence since 1984 has shown that unborn children perceive pain by 22 weeks after the last menstrual period. Pain receptors are present throughout the unborn child, linked to the thalamus, by 22 weeks.
After 22 weeks, the child recoils from painful stimuli with a stress response. More importantly, unborn children undergoing prenatal surgery routinely are anesthetized to avoid this stress response and to keep them from moving. For further information, go to www.doctorsonfetalpain.com.
This law does not apply to babies who have died of natural causes in utero, nor does it mean that every mother in active labor at 22 weeks will undergo a cesarean. The risk to the mother is balanced with the chances for survival of the baby in those circumstances.
Even in cases of severe maternal illness, such as pulmonary hypertension, when premature delivery is required for the maternal condition, cesarean section offers the best chance for survival of mother and child.
For couples dealing with fetal anomalies or even lethal anomalies, there are very successful comprehensive multidisciplinary perinatal hospice programs and state-of-the-art children’s hospitals to help children and families.
Babies who have reached this gestational age deserve the protection of the state.
Kathleen M. Raviele is an ob-gyn based in Tucker.