State Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami has filed a bill based on disputed science that would limit abortion access if the age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.

The proposed bill, to be titled the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” claims that “by 20 weeks after fertilization there is substantial evidence that an unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain.”

Scientific support for what Trujillo’s bill calls “substantial evidence,” however, is not conclusive.

But this is an important issue for pro-life organizations like Florida Right to Life, a strong supporter of Republican candidates in the past general elections and an affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee.

In 2010, Mary Spaulding Balch — National Right to Life Committee director of state legislation — heralded the passage of similar legislation in Nebraska that prohibits abortion after 20 weeks. She said the committee expected more states to join Nebraska.

But Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics, and the chair of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, testified in a congressional hearing that “a variety of groups and commissions in the United Kingdom and researchers in the United States and other nations have, in recent years, examined the question of when a fetus can feel pain. None of them has reached a consensus that is reflected in the proposed legislation.”

A 2010 study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that:

  • The fetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks because the connections in the fetal brain are not fully formed.
  • Evidence examined by the Working Party showed that the fetus, while in the chemical environment of the womb, is in a state of induced sleep and is unconscious.

Trujillo’s office did not respond to calls to discuss the research cited in his bill.

The law introduces a new section in Florida statute on abortion that obligates the physician to perform the necessary medical examinations or tests to determine the postfertilization age.

If an abortion is performed after those 20 weeks, the bill proposes, the physician must demonstrate that the method was necessary to avert the death or irreversible physical impairment of major bodily functions of the woman.

The measure also establishes a Department of Health reporting system physicians must adhere to or face disciplinary action, while further establishing that “any person who intentionally or recklessly performs or attempts to perform an abortion in violation of the 20 weeks postfertilization limit commits a third degree felony.”

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