Study Finds Unborn Babies Could Feel Pain as Early as 12 Weeks
Nervous system and brain could be developed by 18 weeks
A study in BMJ found that unborn babies can feel pain before 24 weeks and as early as 12 weeks’ gestation.
According to two medical researchers, unborn babies who are aborted prior to the 24 weeks could be feeling pain as they are terminated.
“Overall, the evidence, and a balanced reading of that evidence, points towards an immediate and unreflective pain experience mediated by the developing function of the nervous system from as early as 12 weeks,” the authors conclude.
Stuart Derbyshire, a Britsh professor who has served as a consultant to the Pro-Choice Forum in the UK and Planned Parenthood, concluded with American John Bockmann there was “good evidence” the nervous system and brain of an unborn baby are adequately developed by 18 weeks, meaning they can feel pain during the termination.
In the BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics, the researchers state the evidence “flirts with moral recklessness,” suggesting women who seek abortions close to the 24-week limit should be informed the baby could experience pain as it's aborted
[T]here never was a consensus that fetal pain is not possible before 24 weeks. Many papers discussing fetal pain have speculated a lower limit for fetal pain under 20 weeks’ gestation. We note in passing that vote counting and consensus is perhaps not the best way to decide scientific disputes. Regardless of whether there ever was a consensus, however, it is now clear that the consensus is no longer tenable.
The authors outline how recent research pulls into question previous reports implying the baby feels no pain during an abortion until after 24 weeks since a functioning cortex does not develop until after that time.
Here, more recent evidence calling into question the necessity of the cortex for pain and demonstrating functional thalamic connectivity into the subplate is used to argue that the neuroscience cannot definitively rule out fetal pain before 24 weeks. We consider the possibility that the mere experience of pain, without the capacity for self-reflection, is morally significant. We believe that fetal pain does not have to be equivalent to a mature adult human experience to matter morally, and so fetal pain might be considered as part of a humane approach to abortion.
Professor Derbyshire and Dr Bockmann advise: 'Given the evidence that the foetus might be able to experience something like pain during later abortions, it seems reasonable that the clinical team and the pregnant woman are encouraged to consider foetal analgesia [pain relief].' the Daily Mail reported
He said avoiding such a discussion was “sound policy based on good evidence that fetuses cannot experience pain.”
Bockmann “believes that abortion violates the ethical principle of non-maleficence and ought to be restricted and discouraged.”
Both researchers agree “that if fetal pain is likely then that has ethical and clinical significance independent of any views on the morality of abortion per se.”
They note that they are not aware “of any procedures where invasive fetal intervention proceeds without anesthesia or analgesia, except for abortion.”
The researchers add that unlike babies who are operated in the womb where doctors consider the possibility of fetal pain, “abortion is different for at least two reasons”:
First, abortion may prevent future suffering that results from being born in a state of painful physical disability, but an abortion is not designed to preserve or enhance ongoing fetal life. In the cases where little or no disability is expected, there is little or no future benefit to the fetus from the pain they might experience. Second, while all the evidence suggests that surgeons performing therapeutic fetal interventions routinely consider pain relief for the fetus, surgeons performing abortions have their focus on the pregnant woman as their patient. Consequently, they more rarely consider fetal pain relief during the preparation and execution of abortion. Whether or not the fetus feels pain, therefore, is relevant to current medical practice surrounding abortion and could motivate changes in practice.
“Fetal analgesia and anaesthesia should thus be standard for abortions in the second trimester, especially after 18 weeks when there is good evidence for a functional connection from the periphery and into the brain,” the authors conclude.
The Daily Mail’s reported on the study:
Their conclusions raise grave questions for the UK’s abortion industry, which carried out 218,281 terminations in 2018 – almost a quarter (23 percent) of all pregnancies. About 6,000 abortions are carried out annually at 18 weeks or later.
Vice president and research director of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, Dr. David Prentice, said the study represents “a significant admission by doctors on both sides of the abortion debate, recognizing that even early in human development, the unborn can feel pain.”
“And as the authors note, ‘the mere experience of pain…is morally significant,’” Prentice added.
“Science again points to the humanity of the unborn.”