In 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, due to fact that science shows a baby of that gestational age would experience very real pain. Unfortunately, the bill never made it through the Senate, and continues to be delayed today. Some expect Congress to attempt to deal with this issue in the near future once again, but in the meantime, we should examine the evidence from both doctors and scientists that points to how early a preborn baby could feel pain.
Within 20 weeks of fertilization, pain receptors and nerves connecting these receptors to the brain are already developed. After only eight weeks, babies are shown to respond to touch, and after 20 weeks, they will actually recoil from painful stimuli. When experiencing pain, the baby will produce more stress hormones as well, showing that this sensation is real to them.
According to Doctors on Fetal Pain, because fetal pain is already understood, “fetal anesthesia is routinely administered” when a baby needs surgery while still in the womb, “and is associated with a decrease in stress hormones compared to their level when painful stimuli are applied without such anesthesia.” At this point, even though the baby is still developing in the womb, there is evidence that these stresses (including pain due to attempted abortions) could have negative long-term consequences resulting in neurodevelopmental issues, as well as emotional, behavioral, and learning issues throughout the child’s life.
From a scientific standpoint, Dr. David Fu-Chi Mark, a “celebrated molecular biologist,” speaks of the advances and important findings of molecular biology, especially over the last few decades, that specifically relate to “human development prior to birth… observ[ing] that”…
… until the development of molecular biology and modern molecular biological techniques, ‘most scientific knowledge concerning human identity and human development prior to birth was based solely upon gross morphological observations and biochemical studies… there have been extraordinary scientific, medical and technological advances and discoveries which expose the rather rudimentary level of knowledge and ignorance of science, errors of fact and judgment concerning past scientific understanding of the child’s existence as a human being, the child’s early development and ability to react to the child’s environment and feel pain prior to birth.’
(For a fuller report on these findings, please click here.)
Americans United for Life also speaks to recent advancements in science and acknowledges, “[T]hat a fetus can feel pain is an accepted medical fact. However, the question of when a fetus can experience pain has been the subject of some debate over the last two decades.” While studies continue to emerge with new data, it is believed that fetal pain could be felt as early as 5.5 to 13 weeks. This issue is usually not brought to a woman’s attention when she is seeking an abortion. Women are often told that their babies are just pieces of formless tissue that cannot feel anything — meaning, some women truly do not understand what they are allowing to happen to their babies through abortion procedures. They are kept in the dark by lies about fetal pain and fetal development in an attempt to justify what would constitute as torture if these things were done to an adult.
Medical information on the fetal neurological development and a fetus’ consequent ability to feel pain is a concern of women considering abortion, and providing this information is necessary for a woman to make a fully-informed choice on whether or not to obtain an abortion. Women have the right to all available medical information regarding fetal development, and a right to know the consequences of their abortion decision — specifically, that abortion may cause fetal pain…to protect women’s rights, facilitate informed consent, and to further state interests in the well-being of women and developing human life, legislators should work to introduce and enact legislation on fetal pain awareness and prevention.
Hopefully we will soon see laws being passed that would not only prohibit later abortions due to pain, but protect a baby’s life at all stages of development.