Thursday, 30 November 2023
Pain is pain - whether experienced in or outside the womb Melike Benli/Pexels

Pain is pain - whether experienced in or outside the womb

A recently released report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) presents evidence that unborn children react to pain.

Fact Sheet: Science of Fetal Pain, calls upon several studies to make a case that unborn children experience fetal pain, perhaps as early as 12 weeks. 

Just as anyone outside the womb reacts to pain, an “unborn baby reacts to noxious stimuli with avoidance reactions and stress responses,” the CLI report says. 

“As early as 8 weeks, the baby exhibits reflex movement during invasive procedures,” CLI researchers stated, citing a 2013 article from the Journal of Maternal-Fetal Neonatal Medicine.  

Pulling from another study by the British Journal of Anaesthesia, the CLI report further says, “…evidence indicates that subjection to painful stimuli as a fetus is associated with long-term harmful neurodevelopmental effects, such as altered pain sensitivity and, possibly, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities later in life.” 

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Greater understanding of fetal pain

Previously, some researchers and physicians believed the unborn could feel pain around 15 to 18 weeks gestation. Fetal surgeons “routinely incorporate anesthesia and analgesia,” CLI notes. Quoting such a surgeon, the report states, “… the fetus is now a patient.”

An original premise for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case involved the state of Mississippi’s stance on the conclusions of that particular surgeon and others – recognizing abortion at 15 weeks and beyond causes pain to the unborn child. 

However, a handful of physician groups, some among them open supporters of abortion, rejected this belief. 

In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case, the groups stated, “Conclusive scientific evidence is clear: connections that carry stimuli to the cortex, and are necessary at a minimum to experience pain, are not developed until after 24 weeks of gestation.”

As they acknowledge that the unborn child can feel pain even albeit later than 15 weeks, then why do so many people, including some who are part of these organizations, still support late-term abortion? And why aren’t babies who survive those later trimester abortions given life-saving medical intervention? 

The Hippocratic Oath once taken by physicians calls for doing no harm to patients. 

Sadly, many medical graduates no longer say those words, but instead, create their own oaths or recite ones crafted by medical schools. 

Does that mean these residents and physicians no longer refrain from causing harm or hurt? I doubt any doctor wants to purposefully harm a patient, except perhaps through abortion. Why do any physicians perform abortions? Why are abortion survivors often left to die? Why is the child not afforded the status of a patient?

I cannot fathom the answers.

In an issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics published online in 2019, two medical researchers wrote an article titled “Reconsidering Fetal Pain.” Stewart WG Derbyshire and John C. Bockmann said they worked together “to address the evidence for fetal pain.” 

Their consensus, based upon numerous studies, indicated that although an unborn child may not experience pain in the same way as an adult, a fetus does experience pain as a sensation and that pain experience has moral implications.

The two researchers wrote the following: 

“In summary, current neuroscientific evidence undermines the necessity of the cortex for pain experience. Even if the cortex is deemed necessary for pain experience, there is now good evidence that thalamic projections into the subplate, which emerge around 12 weeks’ gestation, are functional and equivalent to thalamocortical projections that emerge around 24 weeks’ gestation. Thus, current neuroscientific evidence supports the possibility of fetal pain before the ‘consensus’ cutoff of 24 weeks.”

In its report CLI picked up that ball and reported that, “Numerous lines of evidence now show the fallacy in the claim that the brain cortex is necessary to experience pain and suffering…”

Tweet This: An “unborn baby reacts to noxious stimuli with avoidance reactions and stress responses” - CLI's Science of Fetal Pain Fact Sheet

Developed cortex or not, pain hurts

The CLI Fact Sheet outlined embryonic development, including organization of the nervous system by six weeks and pain receptors starting to form the following week. Another interesting point addressed was that “the human brain cortex does not fully mature (in people) until approximately 25 years of age, yet infants, children, and teenagers also obviously can experience pain.”

Additionally, CLI researchers stated, “…animals lacking higher cortical structures obviously do feel pain,” a fact also confirmed by a group of veterinarians in a National Geographic article.

Twelve weeks, 15 weeks, 24 weeks. Six weeks, ten weeks, 25 years. No matter the stage of development, a human being still a human being and most if not, all feel pain. If veterinarians believe infliction of pain is “morally questionable” while working with dogs, cats, and horses, why is that standard not also applied to preborn children?

Just as an adult’s face contorts in pain when their body is impaled by something sharp, such as when stepping on a nail, researchers and surgeons have discovered fetuses “grimaced with pain” when an anesthetic injection was administered prior to an intrauterine surgery, and that “… the infant pain experience closely resembles that seen in adults.” CLI cites studies showing these conclusions and many others in its report.

Segments of the development of the unborn will likely remain mysterious to even the most intelligent researchers and physicians until Christ returns and reveals all things to His people. 

However, with technological improvements and medical knowledge growth since Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, we certainly have a better understanding of the development of the unborn and the implications in the science of fetal pain.

We don’t leave nails in people’s feet – medical providers do everything possible to end the hurt and pain and to stop infection. Why is abortion and the pain it inflicts treated differently?

Gayle Irwin

Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning author and freelance writer living in Wyoming. She’s been recognized by Wyoming Writers, Inc. and the Wyoming Press Association for several of her works. She’s contributed short stories to seven Chicken Soup for the Soul books as well. For nearly 13 years, Gayle worked as Patient Resources Director at True Care Women’s Resource Center, a pro-life pregnancy medical resource center in Casper, Wyoming. She will retire in December 2022 to focus on her writing career. Gayle is the author of many inspirational pet books for children and adults, including devotions such as Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned With My Blind Dog and the upcoming Seasons of Life Seasons of Nature. She considers herself a human and pet life advocate and finds creativity and connection in God’s creation. Learn more about Gayle on her website:

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