One of the great discussions surrounding the issue of abortion is that of fetal suffering. A famous documentary film, released in 1984, entitled “The Silent Scream,” and directed by Bernard Nathanson, an abortionist who repented before the images he had observed, was the subject of heated controversy.
Some, like Professor Etienne-Emile Beaulieu, known for the development of RU 486, this “human pesticide” according to Professor Lejeune, had described it as a scientific swindle. Well-known gynecologists had strongly defended it. But today, with recent knowledge gained in various fields, there is some certainty about the reality of fetal suffering.
Here is a summary of an article by Maureen Condic, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah, also working for the Charlotte Lozier Institute (pro-life).
Scientific progress has made it possible to clarify which structures of the brain are necessary for the fetus to feel pain.
Scientists have long and almost universally agreed that connections between the fetal spinal cord and the brain form between 12 and 18 weeks. But growing evidence shows that these connections, which develop quite late, are not necessary to feel pain. It is accepted that the fetus can and does feel pain as early as the onset of the second trimester, which is between 12 to 14 weeks. .
One of the subject matter experts, Stuart Derbyshire, was one of only two neuroscientists who dismissed the possibility of fetal pain before 22 weeks in a famous American report. But, in the face of accumulating scientific evidence to the contrary, he has abandoned his previous position.
Derbyshire now maintains that “the evidence, and a balanced reading of this evidence, points to an immediate and instinctive experience of pain, through developing nervous system functions, from the age of 12 weeks.”
There are five ways to prove that the connection between the cortex - the upper part of the brain - and the spinal cord, is not necessary for the perception of pain. Thus, multiple studies show that animals and humans suffer even if the cerebral cortex is altered, immature, or absent.
Complete removal of the cortex in mammals such as cats and rodents does not erase their response to painful stimuli; likewise, children born without all or most of the cortex are aware of and perceive suffering and pain.
Four other sources of data show that the feelings and emotions of the fetus appear long before the cortical circuits are established. Studies show that the cortex is not responsible for the emergence of human emotions. Rather, it is regions of the brain that develop earlier, such as the thalamus, which are present from the twelfth week of gestation, which can support consciousness and emotions.
Brain imaging and brain stimulation studies in animals and humans show that loss of consciousness and pain perception is associated with suppression of thalamic function. Experimental evidence of suppression of specific regions of the brain also refutes the claim that suffering requires cortical activity.
Finally, three sets of factual observations of fetal and newborn responses to stimuli provide direct and irrefutable evidence of fetal sensitivity to painful stimuli.
First, fetuses delivered prematurely - as early as 21 weeks - exhibit pain-related behaviors, and the younger they are, the stronger they are. This observation suggests that cortical circuits that develop later moderate or even inhibit suffering.
Consistent with these observations, a recent review of the evidence concluded that, starting at 13 weeks, “the fetus is extremely sensitive to painful stimuli,” making “the application of adequate analgesia necessary to prevent [fetal] distress” in cases of intrauterine surgery.
Second, recent reviews of the literature indicate that presence in the uterus has no numbing effect and that, therefore, as in the case of a premature child, a fetus can be aroused by painful stimuli.
Finally, and most compellingly, 4-D ultrasound observations confirm that the fetus responds to painful stimuli. A study published in January 2021 shows that 29-week-old fetuses injected with anesthetic before intrauterine surgery make facial gestures (grimaces, etc.) that are specifically associated with the experience of pain.
These pain-related gestures do not occur when the fetus is at rest or after a “surprising” stimulus such as loud noise. A case study from June 2021 replicated these results in an even younger, 21-week-old fetus.
While facial expressions reveal the experience of pain in people with limited ability to communicate verbally, such as young children, people with dementia, and many animal species, these responses do not occur in unconscious patients, in other words, those in a coma.
The fetus therefore not only “reacts to pain unconsciously and reflexively,” but communicates “a conscious experience of suffering through a universal language of pain.”
In summary, the twelve sources of evidence summarized here support the following conclusions:
(a) Contrary to the assumption of professional associations of physicians, a connection between the thalamus and the cortex is not necessary for a fetus to be conscious and to experience pain;
and (b) a fetus is probably conscious and able to comprehend pain at or before 18 weeks - and possibly as early as 12 weeks.
This supposes a terrible suffering when this child is put to death by the will of those who begot him.
It remains to be seen how these findings will be received in pro-abortion circles, and how the truth will be kept away from women who want to have an abortion.
But as for the other women, these courageous mothers, they did not need this scientific pageantry to know it in the depths of their hearts: this child that they are carrying, as soon as they feel it moving, is very much alive and can feel emotions, they cannot doubt it.