HR 784, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would prohibit the performing of an abortion at twenty weeks post-fertilization age or greater except in circumstances when an abortion is medically necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest against a minor. When these procedures are performed, the bill mandates that physicians adhere to the method most likely to promote survival unless this method poses a greater risk of death or irreversible physical impairment of the pregnant woman.
The bill includes a variety of measures regarding documentation and informed consent involving both the physician performing the abortion and the pregnant woman. Each year, physicians who perform abortions would be required to submit a summary of all procedures to the National Center for Health Statistics – within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- including details such as the post-fertilization age of the fetus, the abortion method, the location of the procedure, which exception is cited for the procedure, and any incident of live birth. Statistics from these summaries would be annually issued to the public with assurance that no public information could be used to identify the pregnant women involved. Physicians who violate these provisions would be subject to a monetary fine, prison for up to five years, or both. The bill emphasizes that pregnant women cannot be prosecuted for an abortion even when such abortions are in violation of these provisions.
The bill’s authors begin with a number of assertions to justify the provisions in this bill; these assertions regard the ability of a fetus to sense and react to pain stimuli by twenty weeks post-fertilization. Included in the bill is one finding that “there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, if not earlier.”