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Controversial abortion bill passes in Arizona

Legislators in Arizona, as well as other states around the country, are on their way to passing a controversial bill restricting abortions. 

The Arizona bill requires "a doctor who will be performing an abortion on a woman who is at least 20 weeks pregnant to inform the woman that the unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain.” 

They are required to say that.  But not all medical experts agree that fetuses feel pain at that point in a pregnancy if at all.  Still the Arizona bill passed the House 36-21 on Monday.  It goes to the Senate next.  Four other states, Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota, Wisconsin have passed similar legislation, although Wisconsin‘s bill was recently vetoed by the governor. 

So the question, is this just a back-door effort to restrict abortions? Dan Abrams was joined by the sponsor of the Fetal Pain Bill, Arizona Republican State Representative Pamela Gorman and president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona Bryan Howard. 

DAN ABRAMS, HOST 'ABRAMS REPORT': Representative Gorman, it does on its face seem to be just another effort to make it harder for a woman to get an abortion. 

PAMELA GORMAN ®, AZ STATE REP.:  Well, actually it doesn‘t make it harder at all.  There is no waiting period.  There is no scare tactics.  We don‘t make them do anything special.  No jumping through hoops. 

ABRAMS: It‘s not a scare tactic to say to a woman who‘s about to get an abortion, hey, you‘ve got to sign a document that says you acknowledge that your fetus is going to feel pain?  That‘s not a scare tactic?

GORMAN:  Well, you could call getting a shot for immunizations for your child a scare tactic under that argument.  You go to get your chicken pox vaccine and you have to sign a paper.  What we‘re saying is this good medical information.  Women have a right to know it.  The abortion doctor is the only people who come in contact with them all and it gives them a better choice—a better set of choices.

ABRAMS:  What about this from “The Journal of the American Medical Association”, August 2005?  Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited, but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

GORMAN:  Well actually, I‘m glad you brought that article up.  The JAMA article actually didn‘t do any new research and interesting about is what they did was survey a bunch of previous commentary.  In fact, the head author on this used to actually be a lawyer for NARAL, one of the other researchers runs one of the largest abortion clinics in San Francisco and in one year alone did 600 of these. 

ABRAMS:  All right, let‘s be clear.  So the most prominent journal, the medical—“The Journal of the American Medical Association” is simply publishing an article that should be completely dismissed?

GORMAN:  In my opinion yes.  I don‘t know what their editorial standards are, Dan.  I can‘t really say.  I can tell that you if you look at the research, there was no actual research done.  They didn‘t do any science. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Howard, go ahead, you want to respond to all this?

BRYAN HOWARD, PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF ARIZONA:  Well, first of all, the article never purported to do original research.  The article was a survey of existing medical data.  And “The Journal of the American Medical Association” is the bible of best practice in medicine in our country.  There were five physicians involved. 

One of those physicians has experience in providing abortion.  To say that an abortion providing physician shouldn‘t be involved in that is like saying pilots shouldn‘t be involved in air safety.  What this proposed legislation does is make medical malpractice a part of the Arizona law. 

We know three things.  We know that general anesthesia carries severe risks, including stroke and death.  We know that the only practical way to administer anesthesia...

GORMAN:  Excuse me.  There is no requirement for general anesthesia.

HOWARD:  Please let me finish.  The only practical way to administer anesthesia to a fetus is through general anesthesia and we know that the medical community, the preponderance of data says that fetuses can‘t feel anything before the 29th week of pregnancy.  So what we‘re doing...

GORMAN:  I have to stop you.  I‘m sorry, Bryan, but you‘re putting false information out and...

ABRAMS:  What‘s wrong?  I mean let‘s be specific.  What did he just say that‘s inaccurate?  Because that‘s exactly what “The Journal of the American Medical Association” reports.

GORMAN:  I understand that‘s what the journal article said.  But a lot of the research was flawed.  Besides no new research, there was slanted interpretation of some of the previous research.  Even the research they did look at, they slanted the response to it.  There were improper assumptions.

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Let me ask you.  Which medical journal are you relying on?  I know in the bill—let me read the bill. 

It says the sensation of pain occurs through a complex process within the nerve system.  This is what doctors I think have to say, right, Representative? This is what the doctors would have to report.

The sensation is triggered by nerves, reacting to some stimulus.  The stimulus creates a signal, which travels by means of the nervous system to the spinal column.  It then travels up the spinal column to the thalamus, a part of the brain, and onward to the cerebral cortex where it is finally interpreted as a painful sensation.  It is agreed by most scientists that a fetus can feel pain during some portion of the pregnancy.

Which prominent medical journal are you relying on to draw that conclusion?

GORMAN:  Well, there‘s the “British Medical Journal”, which may not be from this country, but it‘s very well respected. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s—come on, that‘s a little bit of a reach.  I mean the same people who are saying we shouldn‘t be citing foreign law are suddenly citing British journals as opposed to “The Journal of the American Medical Association”? 

GORMAN:  You asked me for a reputable journal, so I gave you one. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s the best you can do? 

GORMAN:  But the important thing to remember is this is just information. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s the best you can do and you put it in this bill it is agreed by most scientists that a fetus can feel pain, and that‘s the best you can do? 

GORMAN:  There‘s a wide range of information that led to this model of legislation.  And important to remember, 77 percent of the people that have been surveyed in this country think women are entitled to this information, even if...

ABRAMS:  I‘m not going to let you get away with that.  Entitled to information is different from forcing doctors to say this is what happens as a medical fact before you can get an abortion. 

If you want to say that there should be pamphlets there that are available in places that lay out the debate about this issue, I have no problem with that at all.  Do you have a problem with that, Mr. Howard?  Would you have a problem with saying that any abortion provider has to provide or at least offer in their office somewhere a pamphlet that lays out the debate? 

HOWARD:  The legislation requires the physician to quote this information.  If she or he does not, they‘re at risk of losing their license.  Their—if in their medical best judgment this is inaccurate information, they will be practice—they will be engaged in medical malpractice.  And the interesting thing is that my lawyer colleagues tell me that representatives like Representative Gorman have absolutely no liability in this.  So if a patient has an unexpected outcome like a stroke, we can‘t hold the legislature accountable...

ABRAMS:  Yes, I know...

HOWARD:  Who is going to be held accountable? 

ABRAMS:  I got to tell you, of all of the concerns that I have about this, that‘s not certainly one of the top ones.  Representative Gorman, why don‘t you take the final word on this.

GORMAN:  Well, it‘s important to remember when we‘re talking about is giving women full disclosure on information.  The only point of contact that all women having an abortion have in common is the abortion clinics. 


GORMAN:  It makes sense to put it there...

ABRAMS:  All right.

GORMAN:  And I believe it gives one more choice.  It doesn‘t require the doctor to do anything but to tell them there‘s a chance and give them the option of administering anesthesia to the child. 

ABRAMS:  It requires them to tell them that the fetus will incur—will have pain.  Right...

GORMAN:  It requires themto inform them that they have the proper equipment in place to feel pain. 

ABRAMS:  Come on.  It says it requires the doctors to say the fetus will suffer pain.  Yes or no?

GORMAN:  It says—after the line that says it requires them to inform that the proper equipment is in place.

ABRAMS:  What I‘m saying is not incorrect...

GORMAN:  That with that equipment they would feel pain...

ABRAMS:   All right.  Fair enough.

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.