Scientists Say Unborn Babies Can Feel Pain as Early as 8 Weeks

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Oct 10, 2022   |   9:50PM   |   Washington, DC

As early as eight weeks of pregnancy, unborn babies are developed enough that they may be able to feel pain.

Dr. Maureen Condic, director of human embryology instruction at the School of Medicine at the University of Utah, testified as much to U.S. Congress almost a decade ago.

However, abortion activists and mainstream news outlets continue to cast doubt on the science of fetal pain – especially as Republicans introduce legislation to ban abortions on pain-capable unborn babies.

On Monday, a Newsweek fact check asserted that the scientific evidence that unborn babies can feel pain by 15 weeks of pregnancy is “unverified.” However, it relied primarily on pro-abortion sources to “check” the claim and did not talk to scientists like Condic who disagree.

Newsweek centered the article around a comment by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in support of a 15-week abortion ban.

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“[15 weeks] is when a child can feel pain, and we should, in fact, recognize that,” Younkin, a pro-life Republican, told CNN last week.

Questioning the governor’s statement, Newsweek pointed to two pro-abortion sources: the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Physicians for Reproductive Health.

ACOG asserts that an unborn baby cannot feel pain until about 27 weeks because “pain is a perceived experience, with nerves attached to the skin informing the brain that the body is being damaged” and “both the nervous system and brain need to be developed enough” for this to happen, according to Newsweek.

However, 27 weeks seems absurdly late, given that premature babies are surviving at about 22 weeks of pregnancy now, and anesthesia for unborn babies is routine practice in fetal surgeries.

In 2016, Dr. Colleen A. Malloy, a professor of neonatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told a U.S. Senate committee that “anesthesiologists, and surgeons use pain medication” at the 20 week stage, “because it’s supported by the literature completely.”

“The standard of care for NICUs requires attention to and treatment of neonatal pain,” Malloy said. “There is no reason to believe that a born infant will feel pain any differently than that same infant if he or she were still in utero.”

Another scientist, Stuart Derbyshire, an associate professor in psychology and fetal pain expert at the National University of Singapore, pointed out that, by some people’s definition of pain, a full-term baby would not be capable of feeling it until months after birth.

“It really depends exactly what you mean by ‘pain.’ If by pain you mean a high-level, self-reflective, conceptual experience, dependent on or necessarily expressed in language, then the fetus does not feel that at any gestational age,” Derbyshire told Newsweek. “The fetus never feels that, but then neither does the newborn, the emergence of an explicit understanding—’that I am in pain’—will take several months to emerge.”

Derbyshire put the likelihood that unborn babies have the capability to feel pain at about 16 weeks, pointing to “evidence that brainstem circuits are developed and functional” and “motor flexibility starts to be observed.”

But other scientists say unborn babies may be able to feel pain even earlier.

“The earliest reactions to painful stimuli motor reflexes can be detected at 7.5 weeks of gestations [5.5 weeks post-fertilization],” according to one 2012 study.

Dr. Steven Zielinski, an internal medicine physician from Oregon, published research in 1984 to validate evidence for unborn pain. He testified before Congress that an unborn child can feel pain at “eight-and-a-half weeks and possibly earlier” and a baby before birth “under the right circumstances, is capable of crying.”

Zielinski and his colleagues Dr. Vincent J. Collins and Thomas J. Marzen wrote, “The functioning neurological structures necessary to suffer pain are developed early in a child’s development in the womb.”

“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.

Further research showed that hormone levels in unborn babies decrease when pain-relievers are supplied, LifeNews previously reported.

Polls show strong public support for a national abortion ban after 15 weeks, which would save tens of thousands of unborn babies’ lives every year. In September, U.S. Senate Republicans introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks across the U.S.

Most countries across the world protect unborn babies by banning abortions after 15 weeks, if not sooner, but some states in the U.S. allow abortions for basically any reason up to birth.