Foetal Pain

There is substantial medical and scientific evidence that unborn children can feel pain by 20 weeks after fertilization, i.e. foetal pain.

Pain receptors are present throughout an unborn child’s body and are linked to the brain by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.

By 8 weeks, the unborn child reacts to touch. After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognised as painful if applied to an adult human, i.e. by recoiling, and such stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress response.

If an unborn child is subjected to painful stimuli and is then born alive, there may be long term harmful neurodevelopmental effects, including the possibility of emotional, behavioural, and learning disabilities later in life. Experts have asserted: o “It is becoming increasingly clear that experiences of pain will be ‘remembered’ by the developing nervous system, perhaps for the entire life of the individual.”

There are documented reactions of unborn children to painful stimuli and foetal surgeons have found it necessary to sedate unborn children with anaesthesia to prevent them from thrashing about in reaction to invasive surgery.

In the United States, prolife initiatives to introduce legislation related to foetal pain and abortion has had significant success. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed the US House of Representatives in 2015 by 242 votes to 184.

Section 2 of the Act includes the following legislative findings (findings of fact):

(1) Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.

(2) By 8 weeks after fertilization, the unborn child reacts to touch. After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling.

(3) In the unborn child, application of such painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress response.

(5) For the purposes of surgery on unborn children, fetal anesthesia is routinely administered and is associated with a decrease in stress hormones compared to their level when painful stimuli are applied without such anesthesia. In the United States, surgery of this type is being performed by 20 weeks after fertilization and earlier in specialized units affiliated with children’s hospitals.

(6) Recent medical research and analysis provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.

(7) Substantial evidence indicates that children born missing the bulk of the cerebral cortex, those with hydranencephaly, nevertheless experience pain.

(11) Consequently, there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, if not earlier.


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