Dozens of new restrictions passed by states this year have chipped away at the right to abortion by requiring women to view ultrasounds, imposing waiting periods or cutting funds for clinics. But a new kind of law has gone beyond such restrictions, striking at the foundation of the abortion rules set out by the Supreme Court over the last four decades.
These laws, passed in six states in little more than a year, ban abortions at the 20th week after conception, based on the theory that the fetus can feel pain at that point — a notion disputed by mainstream medical organizations in the United States and Britain. Opponents of abortion say they expect that discussion of fetal pain — even in the face of scientific criticism — will alter public perception of abortion, and they have made support for the new laws a litmus test for Republicans seeking the presidency.
“The purpose of this type of bill is to focus on the humanity of the unborn child,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee. “Fetal pain is something that people who are in the middle on the abortion issue can relate to.”
Since Nebraska passed the first 20-week limit last year, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and, this month, Alabama have followed. A similar law has advanced in the Iowa legislature, and anti-abortion campaigners have vowed to promote such laws in more states next year.
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