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New study says fetuses don't feel pain before 24 weeks

A report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which was commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health, has found that fetuses don’t feel pain before 24 weeks (and probably not after for some time) for two reasons: 1) the brain is not formed enough to perceive pain, and 2) the fetus is unconscious. According to the Guardian:

The studies suggest that late abortions, permitted for serious abnormalities or risks to a woman’s health, do not result in foetal suffering because of increasing evidence that the chemical environment in the uterus induces “a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation.”

The report on pain perception says: “It was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.”

Even after 24 weeks, “it is difficult to say that the foetus experiences pain because this, like all other experiences, develops post-natally along with memory and other learned behaviours”.

Even though this is a British study, it’s of course important for Americans, especially since Nebraska recently passed a law — the first of its kind — banning abortions after 20 weeks based on the notion that fetuses feel pain. It was not a law based on science, but rather on emotions stirred up by an anti-choice brigade intent on chipping away at reproductive rights one week at a time.

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photo by chadcrowell