Unborn babies MAY experience pain before 24-week abortion limit, scientists say
Unborn babies may be able to feel pain before they reach 24 weeks, scientists say – which means they could be in pain from being aborted.
Until now, the consensus of medical opinion has been that fetuses cannot experience pain until 24 weeks gestation, after which abortion is illegal in Britain, except in special cases.
But two medical researchers, including a British “ pro-choice ” pain expert who believed there was no chance fetuses would experience pain this early, say recent studies strongly suggest that the assumption is incorrect.
Studies indicate that unborn babies may be able to feel “something like pain” as early as 13 weeks, they say.
Unborn babies may be able to feel pain before they reach 24 weeks, scientists say – which means they could be in pain from being aborted. Pictured: the human fetus at around 12 weeks
Women who have an abortion and have reached this stage of pregnancy should be informed that the fetus may experience pain when terminating the pregnancy, they say. And medical staff should ask if the woman wants pain relief.
To continue regardless of new evidence, “flirts with moral recklessness,” they write in the influential Journal of Medical Ethics.
Last night, anti-abortionists said scientists’ claims should change attitudes about abortion and its practice – suggestions that were quickly rejected by the country’s largest abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
The lead author of the controversial article is UK professor Stuart Derbyshire, who has acted as a consultant to the UK Pro-Choice Forum and Planned Parenthood, a leading US pro-choice organization.
In 2006, he wrote in the British Medical Journal that avoiding talking to women seeking abortion about fetal pain was “a strong policy based on good evidence that fetuses cannot feel pain.”
Until now, the consensus of medical opinion has been that fetuses cannot experience pain until 24 weeks gestation, after which abortion is illegal in Britain except in special cases (file image)
But in the JME article, he and American doctor John Bockmann say there is now “ good evidence ” that the brain and nervous system are connected enough at 18 weeks for the fetus to experience pain. .
Specifically, it was thought that the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that processes sensory information, is not sufficiently developed for pain to register.
As a result, “many medical bodies … report that pain is not possible until 24 weeks’ gestation.” However, recent studies clearly show “that the consensus is no longer valid”, they say.
One study found that an adult with a severely damaged cortex could still experience pain.
Both doctors say their own “ stark differences ” on the morality of abortion “ should not interfere with the discussion of whether fetal pain is possible. ”
With recent advances in understanding, “acting as though we are sure” that fetuses cannot experience pain for 24 weeks “flirts with a moral recklessness that we are motivated to avoid.”
Their findings raise serious questions for the UK abortion industry, which performed 218,281 interruptions in 2018 – almost a quarter (23%) of all pregnancies. About 6,000 abortions are performed each year at 18 weeks or more.
Professor Derbyshire and Dr Bockmann advise: “ Given the evidence that the fetus might be able to feel something like pain in subsequent abortions, it seems reasonable that the clinical team and the pregnant woman be encouraged to consider fetal analgesia. [pain relief]”.
But Clare Murphy, of BPAS, said: ‘The most comprehensive examination of this matter to date concluded that a fetus may not experience pain for 24 weeks.
“There is nothing in this article that would lead to a change in practice.” Dr Anthony McCarthy, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: ‘A society that claims to take animal pain seriously should not hesitate to face the pain inflicted on young human beings in the name of’ choice ”.
“Making death painless for the one who has been killed does not mean that taking life is justified.”
Pro-Life MP Fiona Bruce said: ‘Given the development of views and research on fetal pain, advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on this issue in relation to abortion – which has now almost ten years – should be reviewed. ”
Lord Alton, a cross-peer, who is part of a parliamentary inquiry into fetal pain, said: ‘This new evidence adds further pressure on Parliament to urgently reconsider our current abortion deadline. We last had a real debate on deadlines in 2008. ”
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists did not respond to a request for comment.