Study: Fetuses Don't Feel Pain Before 24 Weeks

A recent Nebraska law banned abortions before 20 weeks because, it claimed, that's when fetuses feel pain. But British research finds that fetuses can't feel pain before 24 weeks — and probably don't feel it after that either.

According to the Telegraph, Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has found that nerve endings in the fetal brain aren't developed enough before 24 weeks to signal any pain. Thus, says the College's report, "It can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation." The College also found that the womb environment has a sedating effect on the fetus, and so anesthetics for abortion (which the House once considered mandating, and some states require that doctors offer) or fetal surgery aren't necessary — and may even be harmful.

In New Scientist, RCOG chair Alan Templeton specifically addressed the specious science behind Nebraska's 20-week law. That law was based on a fetus's observed reflex responses to pain, but Templeton says, "There are indeed reflex responses, but in our view, because the nerves are not wired up to the cortex, they are reflex actions without experience of pain." It's no surprise that the Nebraska law and others of its ilk aren't supported by research, since they're really intended to chip away at abortion rights. In response to the RCOG report, a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron says he will "continue to be guided by the science on the matter." If only anti-choicers would do the same.

Image via Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock.com.

Foetus 'Cannot Feel Pain Before 24 Weeks' [Telegraph]
'No Foetal Pain Before 24 Weeks' [BBC]
Human Foetus Feels No Pain Before 24 Weeks, Study Says [Guardian]
24-Week Fetuses Cannot Feel Pain [New Scientist]

Earlier: Nebraska Challenges Roe V. Wade With Bogus "Fetal Pain" Law