Is Abortion Painful for the Baby?

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When an abortionist rips off the arm of a baby, can she feel it?

The question of fetal pain is very important. Obviously, the unborn child is a human being, developing in the womb. At what point can these children feel pain? If they can feel pain, then abortion is really an instrument of cruel torture, causing unimaginable pain in a manner that we wouldn’t even allow animals to experience.

Sadly, there is a disagreement over the topic. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) politically advocates for abortion and claims babies can’t feel pain before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

So, what should people believe? When an abortionist rips the arm off a baby, does the baby experience pain? Pain is ultimately a subjective experience unique to every person, so how could we know?

We can know through our latest understanding of biology, anatomy, and behavior. From research in those areas, we know unborn children have the capacity to feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and perhaps even as early as 12 weeks.

Biologically, pain must travel from the arm injured by the abortionist to the baby’s brain. Pain receptors must exist in the arm to transmit the sensation through the body, up the spinal cord, and to the thalamus, which relays the message to the cerebral cortex—your brain’s grey matter.

  • Pain receptors first appear around the baby’s mouth at 7 weeks of pregnancy, spread to the face, palms, and soles by 11 weeks, the baby’s trunk and limbs by 15 weeks, and all skin and mucus membranes by 20 weeks.
  • Nerve fibers connecting pain receptors to the spinal cord begin developing at 8 weeks, and fibers to transmit signals to the brain inside the spinal cord begin developing at 13 weeks.
  • The connection between the spinal cord and the thalamus begins developing at 14 weeks and is finished at 20 weeks.
  • Nerve connections from the thalamus to the subplate (a part of the developing cortex) begin developing at 12 weeks.
  • The first neurons in the cortex are established starting at 6 weeks. A baby’s brainwaves have been measured as early as 45 days after fertilization (8 weeks of pregnancy).

So, we know the anatomy exists for pain to occur. But because pain is a subjective experience, we can only observe a person and see if they are exhibiting signs of experiencing pain: signs involving both behavior and measurable biological changes.

  • Between 7 and 8 weeks the baby begins exhibiting reflex reactions to stimuli—specifically moving their head when touched around the mouth.
  • By 14 weeks, the baby can be observed moving deliberately on their own.
  • Stress hormones in response to painful stimuli can be measured in the baby’s blood at 18 weeks.
  • Babies vigorously react to being stuck with a needle, versus their umbilical cord (which can’t physically transmit pain to their brain) being stuck with a needle.

What about objections to these facts? ACOG cites two research reviews that claim babies can’t feel pain before 24 weeks.

One of these reviews’ lead authors is a lawyer, not a scientist. Dr. Stuart Derbyshire helped co-author the other review. However, in 2020, Dr. Derbyshire co-authored a newer review that cites evidence showing unborn children have the capability to feel pain at 12 weeks. ACOG still cites his outdated research and refuses to acknowledge his updated knowledge.

The truth is ACOG has a strong motive for their denial of the existence of fetal pain. If the science of fetal pain is true, then ACOG is partly responsible for the painful, agonizing deaths of millions of children.

Are unborn children asleep until birth, as ACOG contends? While consciousness is also a subjective experience, we know unborn children are not only aware of their environment but learning from it. They begin learning language in the womb and recognize their mother’s voice.

If an unborn child can observe and learn about reality, then so can the leaders of ACOG—as well as other organizations that push abortion. However, sadly, they are ideologically opposed to following the science of fetal development. It should also be noted that even though ACOG essentially acknowledges that babies may have the capacity to feel pain after 24 weeks of pregnancy, they refuse to support legislation banning excruciatingly painful abortions on children after 24 weeks. If they truly cared about these facts, they would at least be supporting bans on such late-term abortions.

For more information and citations for these facts, you can freely download our brochure, “Is Abortion Painful for the Baby?

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