Opinion Brief

Can fetuses feel pain?

A British study concludes fetuses can't suffer physical discomfort before 24 weeks. How does this affect the abortion debate?

In a bombshell that has reignited a central debate over abortion, the U.K.'s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, after a two-year study, has concluded that fetuses can't feel pain in the first 24 weeks of gestation. The law would seem to call into question some anti-abortion measures, including a new Nebraska law banning the procedure after the twentieth week of pregnancy because, lawmakers said, fetuses feel pain during the process. What impact should the British panel's findings have on the abortion debate?

This eliminates one of the main anti-abortion arguments: The "anti-choice" movement has latched onto fetal pain as a reason to ban abortion, says Bridgette P. LaVictoire in LezGetReal, but they can't peddle that myth any more. The British study confirmed that a fetus remains "undeveloped and sedated" until 24 weeks, "due to a combination of the lack of brain connectivity and the state that the womb puts a fetus into." "British study shows no fetal pain before 24th week"

Sorry, the British doctors are wrong: All this study revealed, says Leah Jones at Christian Web News, is that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't want to change the U.K.'s abortion laws to ban later abortions. But other doctors say the "pain-conveying system" starts functioning by 12 to 14 weeks. The pro-abortion crowd doesn't want to believe it, but "the baby can feel you murdering it when you get an abortion.""The baby you're murdering can feel the pain"

Let this be a reminder that there's a difference between a fetus and a baby: This study is a fresh reminder that technology — from the stick that tells a woman she's pregnant to the ultrasounds that follow — has shaped "the way we think of our developing fetuses," says Ceridwen Morris at Babble's Being Pregnant blog. "We are told what our 'baby' is doing from week one." But, as this study underlines, "what’s inside you now is not a small baby, but a baby-in-progress.""Are we robbing our fetuses of a proper fetushood?"

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