H.R. 1797: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

H.R. 1797

Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

June 18, 2013 (113th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, June 18, 2013 the House will consider H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, under a rule.  H.R. 1797 was introduced on April 26, 2013 by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and has 184 cosponsors.  H.R. 1797 was ordered to be reported, as amended by the Judiciary Committee, on June 12, 2013 by a vote of 20-12.[1]  The bill was further modified by the Committee on Rules and is available here.

Bill Summary

H.R. 1797 generally prohibits the abortion of unborn children at twenty weeks after fertilization or later, the stage during which a substantial body of medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain.  The bill provides exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, or from incest against a minor, as long as such incidents are reported to the appropriate law enforcement or government agency prior to the abortion.  H.R. 1797 also provides an exception when the life of the mother is in danger.  The termination of a pregnancy under the exceptions generally must be done in manner that provides the best opportunity for the unborn child’s survival. 

A person who performs or attempts to perform an abortion prohibited under H.R. 1797 will be fined, imprisoned for less than five years, or both.  However, H.R. 1797 prohibits the prosecution of a woman who receives an abortion in violation of the bill.


Medical advances in recent decades have provided a greater understanding of the development of unborn children and their capacity to feel pain at various stages of growth.  The legislative findings in H.R. 1797 demonstrate that unborn children react to touch by eight weeks after fertilization and respond to painful stimuli after twenty weeks.[1]  Surgeons routinely administer anesthesia to unborn children before performing surgery to prevent them from rigorous movement in reaction to the surgery.[2] 

Nine state legislatures have enacted the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, adopting factual findings regarding the capacity of unborn children to experience pain by twenty weeks after fertilization.[3]  Additionally, polling conducted in early 2013 demonstrated strong support for a law prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, with only 30% opposing it.[4]  This polling was conducted before the high-profile trial of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of three counts of first degree murder against newborn children who survived abortions.[5]

[1] H.R. 1797, 113th Cong., Sec. 2(2) (2013). 

[2] Id. at Sec. 2(10).

[3] Committee Report 113-109 Part 1 at 6.

[4] Id. at 9.

[5] Id.


CBO cost estimates are not available for H.R. 1797 at this time.  However, the Judiciary Committee estimates that the cost incurred in carrying out the bill would not be significant for the current fiscal year, and for the next five fiscal years, as a relatively small number of Federal prosecutions out of all such prosecutions would be affected.[1] 

[1] Id. at 14.

Additional Information

A compilation of the extensive evidence that unborn children have the capacity to feel pain, cited by the Judiciary Committee in Committee Report 113-109, Part 1, is available here.