Opinion: Proposition 115 is compassionate common sense for Colorado

Dr. Thomas Jensen
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Groups are hijacking the conversation over Proposition 115 with misleading attacks.  They want you to believe that it restricts all late term abortions, that they are rare, and are solely done to save the mother’s life or for fetal anomalies.  But as a physician myself who assists in medical care during pregnancy, I support Prop 115 as both a compassionate and common sense measure that the majority of Coloradoans can support.

First, the claim that this bill does not have an exception for maternal risk of death is incorrect.  Abortions under this bill would be still permitted after 22 weeks if a physician believed that it was necessary to save the life of the mother.

Most Coloradoans would be surprised to know that our state is only 1 of 7 that allows abortion up until birth for any reason with the other 43 limiting it up until 25 weeks and 38 of those up until 22 weeks.  In addition, only five of the 198 major countries permit elective abortion after 24 weeks; 3 of those being China, North Korea, and Vietnam.  Also, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 18% of Democrats, 13% of Independents, and 6% of Republicans believe that third trimester abortions should be legal.  Hence, the majority of Americans and the world do not support our current legalization of abortion for any reason up until birth.

As Coloradoans, we value equity and appreciate advances in science at the service of justice.  Years of advances in embryology have taught us much.  By the 5th week a primordial heart beat can be detected, by 10 weeks most major organs.  By 19 weeks a mother can feel her child moving and by 22 weeks the baby can respond to her mother’s touch.  More importantly, recent advances have shown that as early as 13 weeks, but certainly by 22-24 weeks, a fetus can experience pain according to most fetal medicine experts.  Clinicians have observed that preterm infants at 22 weeks have “profound, acute adverse reactions” to major painful stimuli.  A recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics by two scholars, Derbyshire and Bockman with divergent views on abortion stated that “we no longer view fetal pain (as a core, immediate, sensation) in a gestational window of 12–24 weeks as impossible based on the neuroscience” and that it has moral relevance. These insights give us compelling reasons to protect this life from painful terminations.  

Some may argue this happens rarely and for very extreme reasons.  We know in Colorado’s 2018 Report of Induced Terminations of Pregnancy, 323 abortions were performed after 21 weeks gestation.  Colorado has no requirement for abortion clinics to report, and we can conclude from mutiple sources that the annual rate is closer to 400 to 500 late aboritons. Dr. Warren Hern, the leading late term abortionists in Colorado,  admits he performs late term abortions on 70% normal fetuses. Of the remaining 30% that are performed due to fetal abnormalities, 40% are due to Downs Syndrome and others include problems that can be treated or solved with surgery.  The Guttmacher Institute in 2013 stated “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”  Dr. Diane Foster, Ob-gyn at University of California San Francisco, stated in a Congressional report in 2018 that “abortions for fetal anomaly ‘make up a small minority of later abortion’ and that those for life endangerment are even harder to characterize.”  Also, for those mothers who find themselves carrying a pregnancy with a child with a lethal condition, perinatal hospice is an alternative to allow their child to pass peacefully.  Finally, in a maternal emergency, it is faster to immediately deliver the child that may survive instead of performing a 3-4 day late term abortion procedure. 

To conclude, Prop 115 is a measure that I believe most can support.  It is a reasonable approach to both the health of the mother and the compelling interest of life and avoidance of pain of the unborn child.  As a physician, we are called to practice by the tenet of do no harm.  Late term abortions represent unnecessary harm to moms and babies.  Let us show the world we stand with both by passing Prop 115.

Dr. Thomas Jensen is an endocrinologist practicing in the Denver area for the last 4 years including in the care of endocrine disorders during pregnancy.

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