In the past two years, six states have banned abortion after 20 weeks on the grounds that that's when fetuses can feel pain. There is no reliable scientific evidence that this is true, and now a new study says that a fetus can't distinguish between touch and pain until around 35-37 weeks, or just before a baby would normally be born.
A study published in the journal Current Biology found that fetuses don't develop the neural circuitry to process pain until late in the development process. According to ScienceDaily, researchers studied the brain activities in 46 babies, including 21 preemies who were born as early as 28 weeks. Scientists tracked the babies' electrical brain activities while blood samples were collected using a heel lance. There was a general burst of electrical activity in the premature babies brains, but those born after 35-37 weeks experienced a response in a specific area of the brain, which suggests they felt pain.
It makes sense that babies wouldn't have the ability to distinguish pain from touch until 35 to 37 weeks, because previous studies on the visual system found that this is when these types of neural connections are formed in the brain. The study did come with a caveat, however. Lead author Dr. Lorenzo Fabrizi said:
"Of course, babies cannot tell us how they feel, so it is impossible to know what babies actually experience. We cannot say that before this change in brain activity they don't feel pain."
Regardless, there is still far more evidence that suggests fetuses don't develop the ability to feel pain around five months. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said since the first "fetal pain" law was introduced in Nebraska that there is "no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus experiences pain." Unfortunately, since the lack of evidence didn't prevent Nebraska, along with Idaho, Kansas, Alabama, Indiana, and Oklahoma from enacting fetal pain laws in the first place, it seems unlikely that new scientific evidence will change the minds of any anti-abortion activists.