Family Research Council Responds to British Fetal Pain Study, Says It’s Flawed

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 12, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Family Research Council Responds to British Fetal Pain Study, Says It’s Flawed

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 12
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — The Family Research Council today released a new report that refutes claims made recently by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) saying an unborn child is not able to feel pain before 24 weeks of development.

FRC is concerned that detractors are using RCOG’s study to uphold Britain’s current legalization of abortions up to 24 weeks.

The pro-life organization is also worried abrotion advocates in the United States could also try to use this study to argue against Nebraska’s new law that states an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks and which, as a result, prohibits abortions from that point.

Jeanne Monahan, the director of FRC’s Center for Human Dignity, responded to the study saying it is seriously flawed and could lead to a profound moral injustice, the more cavalier taking of unborn life.

She told, "The [RCOG] report appears to be politically timed and motivated, given the growing momentum in the U.K. to protect the life of the unborn by lowering the time limits for legal abortion."

Monahan says RCOG gets away with saying unborn children can’t feel by by "using a faulty definition of pain in this study."

"A number of experts in the field of fetal development, who were not consulted for this report, previously have refuted the idea that the cortex needs to be fully developed for an unborn baby to feel pain," she noted. "On the contrary, it is possible that unborn babies between 20-30 weeks of development can experience greater pain than a full-term newborn or older child."

"At 20-30 weeks, an unborn child possesses the highest number of pain receptors per square inch he or she will ever possess, and the baby’s nerve fibers are located closest to the surface of the skin," she said.

Monahan suggests RCOG is trying to "dehumanize the baby to make abortion appear somehow more palatable" even though "the truth remains that abortion is a violent and painful procedure for the infant and mother."

"The humanness of the unborn child is not contingent on its capacity for pain. Whether or not an unborn child can feel pain is irrelevant to the respect that an unborn person deserves – respect sufficient to be protected by law from conception until natural death," Monahan concluded.

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.

Family Research Council’s response to the RCOG report:


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