New Study Denying Fetal Pain Lacks Scientific Basis Pro-Life Groups Say

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 28, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Study Denying Fetal Pain Lacks Scientific Basis Pro-Life Groups Say

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 28
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — A new study from members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists lacks a strong scientific basis and ignores the evidence supplies in several previous studies supplied by leading researchers in the field, say pro-life groups who are criticizing the new report.

As reported last week, the new study, from a Working Party of RCOG, disputes an overwhelming body of evidence that unborn children can feel pain in utero.

The new study claims the nerve connections to the brain are not fully developed to the point at which babies before birth have the ability to feel pain.

While claiming fetal pain doesn’t begin until late in pregnancy, the doctors also suggest that, after 24 weeks into the pregnancy, unborn children are in a state of "continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation."

Mary Spaulding Balch, a National Right to Life attorney who has overseen the development of legislation in the Unite States informing women of the pain unborn children experience in an abortion, told that most scientific research says the pain exists.

"An objective expert in neurobiology would be appalled by the stunning lack of scholarship in the RCOG article," she said.

That’s because the authors of the article have a pro-abortion bias and include one abortion practitioner, she explained.

"Its authors (predominantly abortion advocates and at least one abortionist) based their claim that unborn children do not experience pain before 24 weeks on the absence of complete nerve connection to the cortex before then," Balch said.

Balch says the RCOG authors ignore the seminal 2007 publication of “Consciousness without a cerebral cortex,” in the medical journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences and dismiss its evidence that children born missing virtually all of the cerebral cortex nonetheless experience pain.

"Ironically, the article concedes the evidence that by 20 weeks pain receptors are present throughout the unborn child’s skin, that these are linked by nerves to the thalamus and the subcortal plate, and that these children have coordinated aversive reactions to painful stimuli, and experience increased stress hormones from it," she said.

"This article is an effort by acknowledged abortion promoters to mislead the public at-large – and most tragically women considering abortion – about the increasing evidence demonstrating the unborn child’s sensitivity to pain," Balch told

Meanwhile, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), a British pro-life group, also responded saying RCOG is an organization that supports abortion so its take on fetal pain is expected.

"The RCOG supports the killing of 570 babies every day in Britain, at all stages of pregnancy, through the abortion policies it pursues and the lucrative activities of its members," Tully said.

"RCOG knows better than most people how marvelous, sensitive, complex and beautiful these babies are at every stage of development from conception onwards. Life does not start halfway through a pregnancy, it starts at conception," he told "The issue of the 24-week time-limit on social abortions is a red herring. The RCOG’s claim about babies not feeling pain before 24 weeks begs the question: Why do abortion doctors keep making this point when they support the abortion of babies up till birth?"

"RCOG suggests that its doctors don’t inflict pain on the babies they kill, but this is just a way of denying that what they are doing is evil and they know it. The RCOG is trying to find a comfort zone for its members. It is not concerned about the rights and the lives of the babies killed," Tully added.

Dr. Steven Zielinski, an internal medicine physician from Oregon, is one of the leading researchers into the concept of fetal pain and published the first reports in the 1980s to validate research show evidence for it.

He has testified before Congress that an unborn child could feel pain at "eight-and-a-half weeks and possibly earlier" and that a baby before birth "under the right circumstances, is capable of crying."

Dr. Vincent J. Collins, Zielinski and attorney Thomas J. Marzen were the top researchers to point to fetal pain decades ago. Collins, before his death, was Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois and author of Principles of Anesthesiology, one of the leading medical texts on the control of pain.

"The functioning neurological structures necessary to suffer pain are developed early in a child’s development in the womb," they wrote.

"Functioning neurological structures necessary for pain sensation are in place as early as 8 weeks, but certainly by 13 1/2 weeks of gestation. Sensory nerves, including nociceptors, reach the skin of the fetus before the 9th week of gestation. The first detectable brain activity occurs in the thalamus between the 8th and 10th weeks. The movement of electrical impulses through the neural fibers and spinal column takes place between 8 and 9 weeks gestation. By 13 1/2 weeks, the entire sensory nervous system functions as a whole in all parts of the body," they continued.

With Zielinski and his colleagues the first to provide the scientific basis for the concept of fetal pain, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center has provided further research to substantiate their work.

The issue of fetal pain has captured headlines thanks to a landmark law enacted by the Nebraska legislature in April which restricts abortion after twenty weeks declaring that the state has a compelling interest in the life of a pain-capable unborn child at and after twenty weeks.

Related web sites:
National Right to Life –


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