While the capacity to feel pain is not what protects humans from harm, abortion supporters have advocated for the procedure on the premise that unborn children cannot feel pain until 24 weeks. Some have even argued this ability comes later, and so long as the pre-born entity cannot experience agony in the womb, abortion is morally permissible. But, further research appears to cast doubt upon this claim.
Associate professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, Maureen Condic, Ph.D., had previously testified before Congress in April 2017 about fetal development. Condic testified that “the overall organization of the [embryonic] nervous system is established by four weeks” and the “neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex, is in place by eight weeks of development.”
Condic’s statements have now been backed by two researchers. Stuart Derbyshire, a professor and former consultant to Planned Parenthood, has shifted his stance from the one he previously expressed in 2006. Derbyshire once claimed there was “good evidence that fetuses cannot experience pain.” While he’s still an abortion supporter, he and his co-researcher, John C. Bockmann (who does not concur with Derbyshire’s abortion position) have concluded that several studies cast doubt upon the 24-week pain consensus.
In their study, published in the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors argued that researchers have restricted “pain almost exclusively to fairly mature human beings.” Previous research, the authors argued, focused on a “subjective reflection” of one knowing they’re in pain, as opposed to an “immediate and unreflective feel” of being in pain. The pre-born child may not comprehend the experience of pain, but he has an “immediate apprehension” that is “inherent to a certain level of biological activity.”
Evidence gathered concluded fetuses experience “something…after 12 weeks gestation.” The authors compared the assumption that fetuses cannot feel pain to an act of “moral recklessness.”