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Can the Unborn Feel Pain?

Many pro-abortion advocates like to argue that abortion does not cause a fetus to feel pain. But because of all the logical and scientific evidence that has been discovered, this is not necessarily true.

At 8 weeks into a pregnancy (6 weeks after conception) the neuroanatomic stuctures of the fetus are present. There are several things needed in order for a fetus to be able to feel pain. A fetus needs to have a (1) sensory nerve to feel pain and to send messages to the (2) thalamus, which is part of the base of the brain, and (3) motor nerves, which send the message to that area. All of these things are present at 8 weeks.

Basically, a pain impulse goes to the thalamus, which sends signals down the motor nerves to pull away from the hurt. An example of this procedure would be to stick a pin into an infant. Of course, she will open her mouth and cry. This is just like sticking a pin into the hand of an 8 week old unborn baby, who will open her mouth and pull her hand away. A more thorough description of the pain process is changes in the heart rate and fast, violent movements.

There is much evidence of this. When pain receptors (nociceptors) give out electrical impulses to the spinal cord and the brain, the impulses go outward. This tells the muscles and body to react. All of this can be measured.

Even a group of pain specialists and presidents of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree that fetal pain exists. Documented evidence from ultrasounds, fetoscopy, and fetal electrocardiograms have shown proof of fetal pain, touch, sound, etc. A fetus can repond to light intensity, heat, cold, and can even respond to taste by changing the chemical makeup of the amniotic fluid. These things have also been documented by Sir William Lily, the father of fetology.

There is even more proof of fetal pain. The British Medical Journal tells of an experiment done to find out about fetal pain. It is believed that unlike the unborn child's body, the umbilical cord has no pain receptors. In this experiment, both the umbilical cord and the abdomen of the fetus were poked with a needle. When the umbilical cord was poked, the fetus did not react. But when the baby's abdomen was poked, she reacted with vigorous body and breathing movements. Out of all the foetus experimented on, this did not vary with fetal age.

There have been other numerous incidents involving uterine needling. One case was in which an unborn baby's vein was needled for a transfusion. Within only 10 minutes of the process, the child had experienced a 590% increase of beta endorphin, and a 183% increase of cortosol, which is chemical evidence of pain.

Unborn children can also experience discomfort from time to time. For example, if the mother happens to be laying on her back, and the unborn baby is lying so that his backbone is across hers, he will wiggle and squirm to get out of that position.

It is believed this evidence says it's very possible for unborn children to feel some amount of pain during any of the abortion procedures. As a matter of fact, a theory exists that the pain that the unborn experience is even worse than the pain of an already born baby or an older person. A fetus has a newly established pain system that is unmodified and raw.

Pro-choicers claim that the nervous system of the fetus has to be completely "wired up" (28 weeks) before it is able to feel even the slightest pain. Pro-lifers claim that the nervous system only has to be partially formed (7-8 weeks) for a fetus to feel pain. However, we could say that this fetal pain issue really isn't even relevant to abortion. Abortion ends a human life; thus, what does it matter if the fetus can feel pain or not?


Volman & Pearson, "What the Fetus Feels", British Medical Journal, Jan. 26, 1980, pp. 233-234.

Mountcastle, Medical Physiology, St. Louis: C.V. Mosby, pp. 391-427.

Willke, J & B, Abortion: Questions and Answers, Hayes, 1991, Chpt. 10

M. Liley and B. Day, Modern Motherhood, Random House, 1969, p. 42

Patton et al., Intro. to Basic Neurology, W.B. Saunders Co. 1976, p. 178

P. Ranalli, Neuro. Dept., Univ, of Toronto

M. Fisk, et al., Fetal Plasma Cortisol and Bendorphin Response to Intrauterine Needling, Lancet, Vol. 344, July 9, 1994, Pg. 77