Lawmakers Continue to Promote Fetal-Pain Bills

Claiming that fetuses feel pain, anti-abortion advocates and legislators across the country have tried to push through state bills that require that women seeking abortions be made aware of the pain they say fetuses suffer during the procedure.

Dubbed fetal-pain bills, they were introduced in 19 states in 2005 and passed in Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota and Wisconsin, although the Wisconsin bill was vetoed last month by Gov. Jim Doyle.

This year officials in Arizona, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma have introduced similar bills.

In general, the bills require that a doctor inform a woman seeking a late-term abortion that the fetus could feel pain, and that an anesthetic should be administered directly to the fetus during the procedure. Physicians who do not comply with the requirements would face substantial fines and could lose their medical license.

But whether or not the bills have merit depends on whom you ask. Doyle, for one, is against any legislation on fetal pain.

"I trust doctors, not the legislature, to make medical judgments," Doyle said in a released statement. "We should keep the doctor-patient relationship between doctors and patients, and keep the legislature out of it."

However, groups that oppose abortion tend to view this legislation as a step in the right direction, in that, they say, it makes the public more aware of the humanity of the unborn.

Fetal-pain bills "offer a humanization of the fetus," said Daniel McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life.

The bills, he said, are a way to remind the public that the fetus is an unborn child and needs to be taken care of as much as possible.

Do They Feel Pain?

Besides touching on a rancorous political issue, the fetal-pain bills highlight an ongoing debate in the medical community: if and when do fetuses feel pain?

The most recent study on fetal pain, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that it was unlikely that a fetus could feel pain before the third trimester, and that an anesthetic would pose an unnecessary risk to women.

The study also said that, historically, a general anesthetic was used in abortions until studies found that it was a leading cause of abortion-related mortality. The study received support and criticism from both sides of the debate.

Regardless, Peter Sawires, director of medical education for the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, said the fetal-pain bills go too far and are not based on sound science.

"These laws aren't about medicine and public health -- they're about politics and ideology. These laws would force doctors to provide inaccurate, incomplete information to their patients," Sawires said.

Dr. Andrew E. Good, chairman of the Minnesota section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agreed. "They are adding potential physical harm and possible guilt to a situation that is already tragic."

Melissa Sowry is an associate producer for the ABC News Midwest Bureau.