“Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” Yes! But ...

Think of the tricky balancing act parent’s experience when a child’s report card shows
Unborn baby at 19-20 weeks gestation
improvement but does not rise to best effort. I face that same navigation dilemma in knowing what to say regarding H.R. 36.


This bill is a huge step in the right direction but not nearly enough to achieve dignity and protection for the tiniest and most vulnerable human beings.

The Basics

Any day now, perhaps before you receive this newsletter the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 36. If adopted, the Act will prohibit abortions of unborn children when the “probably post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater.”

Abortions beyond 20 weeks would be permitted to save the life of the mother and when the pregnancy results from rape or incest. When applying these exceptions a physician is allowed to terminate the pregnancy only in“a manner that provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.” The life exception is defined as “life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, excluding psychological or emotional conditions.”

The exception for incest applies only to minors and in both the rape and incest exceptions the offense must have been reported to an appropriate law enforcement agency prior to the abortion.

Violation of the Act may incur fines and imprisonment up to five years. The woman on whom the abortion is performed may not be prosecuted.

Fetal pain

The bill includes a number of declarations based on medical and scientific data known for at least a decade.
  • Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.

  • By 8 weeks after fertilization, the unborn child reacts to touch.

  • For the purposes of surgery on unborn children, fetal anesthesia is routinely administered ...

  • It is the purpose of the Congress to assert a compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain.

Why I say, “Yes, But...?”

While fetal pain is a compelling reason for protecting human beings in the womb and absolutely a bill I want to see passed, I am bothered by the idea that a child’s ability to feel pain determines the value of his/her life. It is not enough to protect only the lives of unborn children who have achieved this or any other milestone of development. I am also bothered by the rape and incest exceptions as though the value of a human life depends on the circumstances surrounding the moment of fertilization. Is not God the Creator of life?

The Christian church is called to acknowledge that every life is of value because God is our Creator and Owner of each human being at every stage of development. Humans are so very valuable to God that He sent his Son Jesus Christ to die so that we might live and not die. The child in the womb—no less than you or I—is a human being for whom Christ died.

So, yes, pass this bill! It is right and good and will save lives. But never forget the tiniest and most vulnerable babies of all—those prior to 20 weeks will not be protected by it. We must continue to work for the protection of all children, born and unborn. HR 36 is a good step in the right direction, but, Church, we haven not achieved God’s best for us until we value every human life as a gift from the Creator! We, the Church, have a lot of homework to do both in speaking out for the unborn and in providing tangible alternatives to pregnant women that empower her to choose life for herself and her baby.

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