U.S. Supreme Court punts on AZ 'hybrid' abortion ban

01/14/2014 11:00

by Kathy Ostrowski

and nine other states have passed abortion bans recognizing the unborn child as a pain-capable human being at 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is the same as being dated 22 weeks from woman's last menstrual period, or LMP.

In 2012, Arizona passed a "hybrid" abortion law that included the fetal pain issue but would affect pregnancies 2 weeks earlier than all other similar "pain" bans. It was immediately sued, upheld in state district court and struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which does not govern Kansas). Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined the appeal to review the Ninth circuit's decision.

Medical science now recognizes that the unborn child at 20 weeks post-fertilization possesses all the physiological structures needed for pain perception.

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) created the pain-capable model legislation with hope the U.S. Supreme Court would review such a law, focusing specifically on scientific data about pain which has never been presented to them in an abortion case.  This data includes studies outside the abortion arena verifying that the thalamus, not the cortex, is needed for humans to perceive pain. [Read documentation at doctorsonfetalpain.com about the issue.]

Some quick analysis of today's decision:

1) The U.S. Supreme Court continues to resist taking abortion cases. This is the second abortion case deferred this term- the earlier Court decision avoided a chemical abortion law from Oklahoma.   The Court is only pressured into taking on an issue when there are conflicting appellate decisions. Only one circuit has ruled on pain-related abortion bans, the (notoriously overturned) Ninth circuit.

2) The U.S. Supreme Court did not outright rule against the constitutionality of abortion bans for pain-feeling unborn children. But because the Court does not explain why they decline cases,  we are left to wonder exactly why the Court declined to examine Arizona's law. It may well be that the bill at their doorstep had too many dimensions: not only did Arizona conjoin a second issue of late-term abortion safety with the issue of  pain to unborn babies-it also lowered the pregnancy date two weeks below where there is currently the most medical evidence for pain capability.

3) Abortion forces will certainly try to wave today's action as a warning against states contemplating enacting pain-capable legislation. However, we still believe a "clean" law sticking to 20 weeks post-conception/22 weeks LMP is totally defensible. The U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 abortion ruling(Gonzales), affirmed that states have compelling interests for enacting abortion regulations, and declined to list those interests. The Gonzales ruling said states may pass protective legislation based on science even when "medical consensus" on that data was lacking.

We regret that the U.S. Supreme Court has skirted examination of the issue of fetal pain, and left abortion interests encouraged by today's action