In 2012, voters in South Dakota will get a chance to decide if their state should ban the abortion of fetuses after 20 weeks based on debated evidence that those babies can feel “pain” at that early stage. The “fetal pain” measure is based on a similar law that voters in Nebraska passed in 2010. Now, other states are looking to pass their version of the law, including Florida and South Dakota.
“We are very seriously looking at having the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act entered in this year,” said Valerie Johnson, the education coordinator for South Dakota Right To Life and the South Dakota delegate to National Right To Life, reported the Rapid City Journal. “Not only would it save babies, but it would also (say) the state has an interest in a developing unborn child.”
Although such a bill would have little effect on the 92 percent of abortions in South Dakota performed before the 13th week of pregnancy, it would still potentially make a huge difference to some of the 8 percent that take place following the 13th week. However, precise data is unavailable for abortions between the 13th and 20th week.
In addition, voter fatigue could be an issue, with several anti-abortion measures being hotly contested in the state over the last few years, including a bill that was blocked in June that would have required a woman seeking an abortion to face a three-day waiting period and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers. The waiting period would have been the longest in the nation, MSNBC reported.
Before then, voters turned down a full abortion ban in 2006 and 2008. Also, two other proposed abortion laws are currently tied up in lawsuits.
In addition to the possibility of voters being disinterested, the scientific evidence regarding fetal pain is also an issue.
Johnson claims that the evidence that babies feel pain at the early stage is “indisputable.” However, Mark Rosen, an obstetrical anesthesiologist at the University of California at San Francisco, controversially claims that babies cannot feel pain until well into the third trimester – at 28 weeks gestation.
Johnson has insisted that South Dakota voters want to vote on this issue and that it will pass.
"I get the sense that there is wide support for this bill," she told the Rapid City Journal. "Everyone can relate to pain."
In Florida, Rep. Daniel Davis, a Republican from Jacksonville, is also proposing a 20-week abortion ban based on the fetal pain theory.
Although a similar bill failed to pass last year, Davis believes the issue is too important to not try again.
“I think as a society we do not want people to feel pain,” Davis said, according to the Florida Times-Union. “We should do everything we can do to relieve pain.”