Senator Benson bill would prohibit abortion of unborn children who feel pain

More babies would be given a chance at life under a new bill from Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) that would prohibit abortions once a baby is able to feel pain inside a mothers’ womb. ‘The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act’ would outlaw abortions once an unborn child has reached 20 weeks of age.

Research shows that 20 weeks after fertilization an unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human. One example is by recoiling at certain stimuli. At this stage, pain receptors are present throughout the child’s body and nerves link those pain receptors to the brain.

“The difficult question we must grapple with is: when should a child be protected?” said Senate Health and Human Services Chair Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake). “My contention is that an unborn child who feels pain deserves our recognition and our protection. I have seen surgeries performed on a fetus to remove a tumor. I have seen surgeries performed on a fetus to repair spina bifida. Neonatal palliative care is a growing practice and there are new innovations happening all the time. My heart breaks for the women who choose to have a late-term abortion, but our major medical systems treat unborn children as patients. We should recognize them as such and protect them from the tragedy of abortion.”

We often hear heart-wrenching stories indicating that no woman would make this choice if she had a healthy baby. However, according to Minnesota Department of Health data from 2013 to 2017 there were 248 abortions performed at 20 weeks or later (1). Of those abortions performed after 25 weeks gestation, only five were due to fetal abnormalities (2). The Senate will continue to seek information from the Department of Health to inform Minnesotans about late term abortions.

Notable provisions of the bill:

  • A physician must determine ‘probable post-fertilization age’ prior to performing an abortion in order to guarantee the fetus has not yet reached 20 weeks of age.
  • The bill makes exceptions when the mother is facing a medical condition that could result in death or serious risk of irreversible physical impairment of a major body function.
  • The bill appropriates money to study the increase in abortions occurring after 20 weeks and the reasons for the increase. The Commissioner of Health must report the findings of the study by February 15, 2020. The Department of Revenue is working on a projection that will determine how much money is needed for the study.

The bill was approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on March 14 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it awaits a hearing.


  1. Minnesota Department of Health annual report: Induced Abortions in Minnesota: Reports to the Minnesota Legislature
  2. Data provided by the Minnesota Department of Health Director of Legislative Relations, February 12, 2019