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When Does a Fetus Feel Pain?

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, ultrasound technology was not available to allow women to see their children inside the womb. So, the court decided in favor of the abortion lobby based on the assumption that an unborn child was little more than a clump of cells. Now, however, ultrasounds clearly showing fetal development make it clear that, even in the first trimester, an unborn baby is a living being.

This forced pro-choice lobbyists to come up with alternative arguments, with one being the assertion that unborn babies do not feel pain; thus, it would be perfectly fine for a woman to end her pregnancy with no concern for the life of the fetus. This argument, however, is also coming under fire from scientists on both sides of the political aisle.

When Does a Fetus Feel Pain in the Womb?

Pro-choice and pro-life advocates agree that an unborn baby can feel pain in the womb. The only question is, when does a fetus feel pain? Planned Parenthood states that a baby cannot feel pain until 28 weeks after gestation; however, the study cited in its assertion dates back to 2010 and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which conducted the study, has removed it from its official website. Another study backing up Planned Parenthood’s assertions was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005.

Both studies, while conducted by respectable medical professionals, are outdated as improved technological and medical developments have enabled doctors and researchers to better understand fetal development.

When Does a Fetus Feel Pain in the First Trimester?

In 2020, two researchers, one pro-life and the other pro-choice, decided to work together to determine when a fetus feels pain. Both came to the conclusion that it is possible for a fetus to feel pain as early as twelve weeks after gestation. Other recent studies have found that pain receptors in the fetus start forming just seven weeks after gestation and the nerves linking the pain receptors to the thalamus and subcortical plate start forming as early as twelve months after gestation.

In fact, it is now standard medical procedure for doctors performing fetal surgery to use direct fetal analgesia and anesthesia after the fifteenth week of gestation. Unfortunately, abortion is still the exception to this rule, which means that a doctor performing an abortion can take the life of an unborn baby without regard for the fetus’ ability to feel pain.

Neurological and Psychological Considerations

Leading neuroscientist Dr. Stuart Derbyshire long held that it was impossible for a fetus to feel pain until the third trimester because the human cortex isn’t fully formed until this point. In fact, he even co-authored a study that made this specific point in 2010.

However, as scientific developments and further studies of fetal pain showed the position to be incorrect, Dr. Derbyshire took a closer look at his assumptions and then publicly reversed his position, announcing that studies make it clear that the human cortex doesn’t have to be fully formed in order for a fetus to feel pain or discomfort.

Dr. Derbyshire explains, however, that it is important to understand that the way a fetus processes pain is different from the way an individual processes pain after birth. The International Association for the Study of Pain describes pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience, and a fetus clearly does not feel pain at such a level in the first or second trimester.

Nonetheless, Dr. Derbyshire notes, this does not mean a fetus is psychologically immune to pain; the unborn child feels apprehension and discomfort even though he or she is unable to process these feelings.

Moral Implications of Fetal Pain

The moral implications of fetal pain are impossible to ignore. If a fetus feels pain, it should be treated with the same level of respect that would be accorded to any other human being. Indeed, animal cruelty laws cover not only mammals (which have an advanced cortex) but also some non-mammals that do not have an advanced cortex.

While laws vary from state to state, the criteria have nothing to do with an animal’s ability to speak or reason; rather, the simple question is whether the animal is suffering. Clearly, a human fetus should be treated with the same level of respect. In instances where an abortion is a medical necessity to save a mother’s life, the use of fetal analgesia and anesthesia should be required.

Pregnancy is a very emotionally challenging time even in ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, many pregnant women do not have the help and support they need and deserve in order to care for themselves and their child during pregnancy and after the baby is born. It is not surprising that many struggling women view abortion as the only solution to their problems, especially since the pro-choice lobby is all too eager to assure these women that the fetus does not feel any pain or discomfort during the first or even second trimester of life.

Caring Network, on the other hand, offers a completely different approach to pregnancy. The Bible makes it clear that both unborn children and their mothers are humans made in His image and deserve to be treated with the same level of respect and care that one would accord to Christ Himself.

Thus, we offer free limited medical services (including ultrasounds and hospital grade pregnancy tests), emotional support, and resources to assist pregnant women both before and after the child is born. If a woman chooses to form an adoption plan, we offer support services and practical assistance to help her through the process.

Our doors are open to women of all ages and walks of life; we do not discriminate based on age, ethnicity, religious background (or lack of one), or any other criteria. We encourage anyone who needs help or would like to work with our team to get in touch to learn more about our services.

Consider Donating To Save Lives

Women are making decisions to terminate their pregnancies because they don’t believe there are better options. Caring Network serves each woman with care and compassion to provide the practical, emotional, and spiritual support she needs to choose life – both physical life for her baby and spiritual life for herself.

All of our services are free of charge so every woman is welcomed, loved, and supported. Would you stand with us to save lives?

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