Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on Wednesday, making it officially illegal for women to undergo an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in South Carolina. Underlying the bill is a professed desire to prevent the fetus from feeling pain during an abortion. “After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling,” says the bill.
That claim, of course, has been panned by critics as junk science. According to a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester” — and the third trimester begins in the 28th week of pregnancy. In a 2013 statement on fetal pain, entitled “Facts Are Important,” the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reiterated that position, noting that “no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.” The British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has similarly concluded that the claim fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks is a myth. Planned Parenthood has also condemned Haley’s signing of the legislation.
South Carolina is now the 13th state to enact such a ban. A hint at why, perhaps, came from the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Representative Wendy Nanney, after the measure was passed in the legislature. In a statement made to Reuters, she made it clear she believes “life begins at conception,” before saying she found it “inhumane to subject that baby to pain at 20 weeks.”
Given that the scientific community and the Supreme Court — which legally defined viability at 23 to 24 weeks in a 1992 ruling — contradict that rationale, South Carolina’s 20-week ban appears to be just the latest means of chipping away at women’s abortion rights.
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