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Proposed bill would offer anesthesia to fetuses facing abortion

December 05, 2005
By: Leslie Yingling
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Pain relief for fetuses facing abortion is one of the topics on the table for Missouri's next legislative session.

If approved, the Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act, filed by Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, would mandate that physicians inform women seeking abortions at or after 20 weeks of the fetus' capacity to feel pain. Missouri doctors would then be required to offer to administer anesthesia to a fetus before an abortion.

"Since it's been discovered that very early on after gestation an unborn baby feels pain, that information and anesthesia should be offered to the woman that is considering an abortion," he said.

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, said she would not support the legislation. Assuming that a fetus can feel pain at five months does not reflect the most recent science, she said.

"Women want health care, not politics when they go in the doctor's office," Bray said. "They want accurate, appropriate information that's based on good, most recent science."

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fetuses do not feel pain before 30 weeks.

Gross said he has read studies that suggest unborn babies could feel pain at 20 weeks. Of the conflicting research, Gross said he'd rather "take the most cautious approach" and offer fetal anesthesia earlier.

Peter Brownlie, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas City and Mid-Missouri, said doctors, rather than politicians, should make medical decisions.

"Women have the right to expect that medical professionals are making the decisions," he said.

Gross said he sees a need for legislators to address the issue.

"If all the decisions were made by those who carry out the law, there would be no reason to have laws," Gross said.

Lawmakers would do better to address "the real problem," Brownlie said, "which is the number of unintended pregnancies in the state."

Bray agreed."If they're really so concerned about abortion, let's go for it," she said. "We all know and agree that if you don't have unwanted pregancies, you don't have abortions."