Medical Journal: Babies May Be Able To Feel Pain As Early As Twelve Weeks

Brenna Lewis - 21 Jan 2020

A new paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics is bound to spark new debates over limits on abortion. The paper expands on the previously held belief that preborn babies could begin to feel pain around twenty-weeks; this paper posits that it is possible for preborn babies to feel pain as early as twelve weeks.

The authors of the paper are not both pro-life; they write, “The two authors of this paper have very different views on the morality of abortion. One of us believes that abortion is necessary for women’s health and autonomy, while the other believes that abortion violates the ethical principle of non-maleficence and ought to be restricted and discouraged. Regardless of our stark differences on this question, we both believe that our moral views on abortion should not interfere with discussion of whether fetal pain is possible and whether the science of fetal development can rule out the possibility of fetal pain. We also agree that if fetal pain is likely then that has ethical and clinical significance independent of any views on the morality of abortion per se. That said, it is also clear to us that the issue of fetal pain has ethical significance because of abortion practices and not because of other surgical or therapeutic fetal procedures.”

They found, “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.” What this basically means the brain tells the body to feel pain as early as twelve weeks.

Pro-life Twitter celebrated this news:

This new research will inject a fresh angle into the debate over when abortion can be limited.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has argued before that Roe v. Wade should be reversed, partially because our scientific understanding has advanced in the past 47 years, and thus our understanding of when babies can feel pain should be reflected in our laws on abortion.

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