Can an unborn child feel pain?
That question will dominate the abortion debate in America for the next several years thanks to Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska. Last week, Heineman signed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law, banning abortions in Nebraska at and after 20 weeks based on growing scientific evidence that an unborn child at that age can feel pain.
The legislation was enacted as a defensive measure. After the murder of late-term abortionist George Tiller, a physician named LeRoy Carhart declared his intention to carry on Tiller's work at his Bellevue, Neb., clinic. State legislators did not want Nebraska to become the country's late-term abortion capital -- so they voted 44-5 to stop him.
The new law will probably spark a Supreme Court showdown, because it directly challenges one of the key tenets of Roe v. Wade -- that "viability" (the point at which an unborn child can survive outside the womb, generally held to be at 22 to 24 weeks) is the threshold at which states can ban abortion. In defending the law, Nebraska will ask the high court to take into account scientific research since Roe and push the legal threshold back further.
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