Issues

Preborn babies can have ‘heightened sensation of pain’ as early as 8 weeks

preborn baby

The Supreme Court announced this week that it will take up the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization regarding a Mississippi law banning abortion prior to viability. Hearing this case will allow the Supreme Court to revisit both Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States in 1973, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which said states could restrict abortion after the age of viability in 1992. But it may also serve as a wake-up call to many Americans, who don’t know that a preborn baby is capable of feeling pain at 15 weeks, and may feel it more deeply than adults do and even earlier than previously believed.

The 15-week ban

Known as The Gestational Age Act of 2018, the Mississippi law bans abortion after 15 weeks, except in medical emergencies or in cases of a poor prenatal diagnosis. According to the text of the Act, the reason the state legislature choose 15 weeks as the age for the ban is the level of brutality involved in the most common second-trimester abortion procedure — a D&E abortion (dilation and evacuation).

“The majority of abortion procedures performed after fifteen (15) weeks’ gestation are dilation and evacuation procedures which involve the use of surgical instruments to crush and tear the unborn child apart before removing the pieces of the dead child from the womb,” wrote the legislators. “The Legislature finds that the intentional commitment of such acts for nontherapeutic or elective reasons is a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient, and demeaning to the medical profession.”

By 15 weeks gestation, a preborn baby is clearly human, and can be seen in an ultrasound opening and closing her fingers, making sucking motions, kicking, and waving. A D&E abortion, as explained in the video above by former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino, involves tearing that preborn child’s arms and legs from her torso before crushing her skull. Many of these children are alive when the abortionist begins to dismember them — and are completely capable of feeling pain.

A study published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has reignited the debate on when a preborn child is capable of feeling pain. Lead author Emma Harcourt, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Otago’s Centre for Science and Communications, claims that the current consensus is that children can’t feel pain until at least the 29th week of pregnancy. This is far from the truth, as numerous studies have found that babies as young as eight weeks are capable of feeling pain.

According to the study, which surveyed 374 people living in the United States regarding their opinions on abortion and the ability of a preborn baby to feel pain, those who are pro-life are more likely to know that a child can feel pain before the 23rd week of pregnancy and even in the first trimester. Interestingly, the study found that 80% of women surveyed believe that a preborn child can feel pain before the third trimester, compared to 56% of men. Harcourt believes this is because women are being fed misinformation from pro-life groups. It’s more likely that women, as the ones who carry babies, are paying closer attention to fetal development during pregnancy compared to men.

Pain-capable laws

Laws related to limiting abortion due to a preborn child’s ability to feel pain have popped up across the United States, like The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, as well as internationally. Independent TD Carol Nolan recently introduced the Foetal Pain Relief Bill 2021 in Ireland, cosponsored by 10 other TDs.

“Medical science has known for some time that unborn babies can experience pain from 20 weeks’ gestation,” she said. “However, an increasing body of scientific research from about 2007 onwards has suggested that the brain and nervous system develop at a rate which means that unborn babies may feel pain as early as 13 weeks. The latest such study was published just last year in the Journal of Medical Ethics.”

Proof that preborn children feel pain

That study, “Reconsidering fetal pain,” states that though many reports rule out fetal pain before the third trimester, given that the cortex only begins to function after 24 weeks, more recent evidence calls into question whether or not the cortex is actually necessary for feeling pain.

“We consider the possibility that the mere experience of pain, without the capacity for self reflection, is morally significant,” wrote the researchers (one pro-abortion and one pro-life). “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.”

While the cortex may not form until the third trimester, researchers have discovered that as early as the first trimester, preborn children already have adult-like nervous system patterns, even in their hands and feet. The nervous system is established by four weeks, and the spinal reflex is established by eight weeks. Dr. Maureen Condic, Ph.D., an associate professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, testified before Congress concerning fetal pain, and explained that the spinal reflex is the “neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain.” By 12-18 weeks, the preborn child is “capable of mature pain perception,” she explained.

Fetologist Albert Iiley of the University of Auckland confirmed this, saying that the spinal reflexes are developed enough for the preborn baby to feel pain just 56 days — eight weeks — after fertilization. “When doctors first began invading the sanctuary of the womb, they did not know that the unborn baby would react to pain in the same fashion as a child would,” he said. “But they soon learned he did.”

Dr. Colleen Malloy testified before a hearing for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2012 that not only do fetuses feel pain well before 24 weeks, but they have a “heightened sensation of pain compared to an infant more advanced in gestation.” She also noted that the more premature a baby is, the “stronger their response is to pain […] due to the absence of later arising brain circuitry that actually inhibits the pain response in older infants and in adults.”

“I firmly believe, as the evidence shows, that the fetal pain experience is no less than the neonatal or adult pain experience,” Dr. Malloy said. “It may even be greater than that which you or I would experience from dismemberment or other physical injury.”

Based on the plethora of research showing that preborn children are absolutely capable of feeling pain and newer research indicating that they can feel pain at a deeper level and much earlier than previously thought, it would be best to err on the side of caution, and treat these preborn babies with the respect and dignity they deserve. There is no debate to be had, despite what Harcourt and other abortion advocates claim regarding fetal pain. Whether referred to as fetuses or preborn babies, there is no doubt that they are human beings, and there is significant evidence that they can feel pain while their limbs are being torn from their torsos during brutal and unnecessary abortion procedures.

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