June 25, 2010
British Study Reignites Fetal Pain Debate
Pro-lifer groups on both sides of the Atlantic dismiss report.
Pro-life politicians and activists are responding to the findings of British doctors who say that the human fetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks.
The study, which comes out of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, comes out amid hints that pro-life members of the British Parliament—possibly including Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron—might want to pull back the UK’s legal time limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.
The Royal College hasn’t dissuaded Labor MP Jim Dobbin, a leader of the pro-life movement in the House of Commons, who told the London Evening Standard, “Other experts would differ. This does not diminish the case for lowering the limit.”
“This is a nakedly political attempt by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to defend the status quo,” said a spokesman for the British based Pro-Life Alliance in a Friday press release. “The Prime Minister has openly backed a reduction to 20 weeks and this is supported by an overwhelming majority of the British population. The RCOG are trying to stop abortion reform and will ignore the opposing side of the argument to suit their purposes.”
Pro-life advocates on this side of the Atlantic agree.
“The overwhelming consensus in the medical community in the scientific literature is that it is undisputed that unborn children begin feeling pain at at least 20 weeks gestations,” Mailee Smith, staff counsel for Americans United For Life, said to CT this morning. “And this accepted medical consensus is demonstrated in the general practice of administering anesthesia during in utero surgical procedures of unborn children who are 20 weeks gestation or more.”
Smith and the Pro-Life Alliance both point to the research of American Dr. Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, an researcher in pediatrics and anesthesia, who has been a leader in research suggesting that unborn children feel pain after 20 weeks in the womb.
Anand testified before Congress in 2005 that “based on evidence suggesting that the types of stimulation that will occur during abortion procedures, very likely most fetuses at 20 weeks after conception will be able to perceive that as painful, unpleasant, noxious stimulation.”
Anand “was not even consulted” in the RCOG’s study, complains the Pro-Life Alliance.
The extent of this study’s influence is not yet clear. The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister’s office said that Cameron will "continue to be guided by the science on the matter."
In America, Smith says it will probably have not much affect on the overa;l abortion debate, though it may be cited in certain cases (like Nebraska’s recent law, which specifically deals with fetal pain as a factor in restricting abortion).
“For the most part this study is going to be overwhelmed by the evidence” for fetal pain at 20 weeks, Smith said.
As far as some in Britain are concerned, questions of fetal pain shouldn’t be central to the abortion debate at all.
“Beyond the issue of pain and fetal awareness, the vital core of this debate seems to have been forgotten,” said an article from the London-based Christian Concern for our Nation. “Life is life and should be protected no matter how little or how fragile the life taken.”