Scientific research on fetal pain

August 2023

NHS trusts admit fetal pain in abortion

As was reported by Christian Concern, after four decades of denial from the abortion industry, a Freedom of Information (FOI) investigation into the approach of NHS Trusts to fetal pain during late term abortions has revealed that half now recognise its existence.

Feticide involves the injection of potassium chloride to an unborn baby from late term into a pregnancy to bring about cardiac arrest. Published statistics reveal that over 1,300 are performed each year in the UK.

The BBC has previously reported on the use of potassium chloride for lethal injections saying: “Without proper sedation, this stage would be extremely painful. The feeling has been likened to ‘liquid fire’ entering veins and snaking towards the heart. If the inmate is not fully paralysed, their muscles will also spasm uncontrollably.”

The abortion industry has insisted, however, that fetal pain during the abortion process at any stage of a pregnancy is a ‘misnomer’ and has refused to take action to address it despite a growing bank of evidence.

In 2022, for example, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) buried a report that revealed that it no longer asserts that a fetus is in an unconscious state until birth and therefore cannot experience pain. For years the theory that feticide was painless for unborn babies was given to reassure and convince women in crisis pregnancies to go ahead with late term abortions.

In response to RCOG’s buried report, pro-life scientist, James Evans, has carried out an FOI investigation to shed further light on the issue. To date in 2023, 116 NHS Trusts have responded to FOI requests asking them:

“Does your NHS Trust perform a feticide procedure?

“And if your NHS Trust does perform feticides: Does your NHS Trust usually give or offer direct fetal “painkiller”/sedative as part of the feticide? What substance is used for the feticide itself? If the birthing person requests direct fetal painkiller/sedative, will direct fetal painkiller/sedative be considered and, if appropriate, administered?”

In response to the FOI requests, data reveals that:

Of the trusts who perform feticides, 76% (28 NHS Trusts) administer or are willing to administer direct fetal painkiller or sedative.

Of the 28 NHS Trusts who administer direct fetal painkiller/sedative, 18 (49%) NHS Trusts offer this as part of the procedure and 10 (26%) of NHS Trusts only consider fetal painkiller/sedative if specifically requested by the mother.

14% (5 NHS Trusts) do not give direct fetal painkiller or sedative and would not say if they would consider fetal painkiller if requested by the mother.

20% of the answers were ‘other’, arguably signifying that the policy is under review or comes down to a consultant’s discretion.

Two NHS Trusts were in the ‘No’ category: Shrewsbury and Telford. Both trusts stated that they wouldn’t give fetal painkiller even if asked to by the mother.

Oxford University Hospitals said in response to the FOI requests: “We use potassium chloride in our procedures for feticide. Our standard operating procedure is to inject the cord of the foetus and therefore so-called ‘painkiller’ is not required.”

It is correct that the umbilical cord has no nerves and therefore the needle itself would not be felt, however, this is of great concern as the fetus, then aged up to full term, would experience significantly more pain as the potassium chloride would enter via the umbilical vein, via the belly button into the liver, through the veins before reaching the heart and inducing cardiac arrest.

This data is significant because it is a near full picture of all NHS Trusts in England and it is the first time the NHS acknowledges its widespread use of fetal painkiller during abortions -previously only declaring its use of fetal painkillers in fetal surgeries from 19+0 gestational weeks. READ more here 

November 2020

UK MPs made aware of the importance of reviewing scientific research on foetal pain

In November 2020, a large number of UK MPs attended a Parliamentary webinar hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, aimed to raise awareness of reviewing scientific research on fetal pain. MPs heard from John C Bockmann PA, a U.S, Army physician assistant and member of the Conner Troop Medical Clinic at Fort Drum, New York, and Dr Stuart WG Derbyshire, an Associate Professor in Psychology at the National University of Singapore.

Dr Derbyshire had previously served on the 2010 Royal College of Gynaecologists working group, which concluded that it was unnecessary to administer pain relief to unborn babies at any stage of gestation. However, at the webinar, Dr Derbyshire discusses with Bockmann about their recently collaborated Journal of Medical Ethics article “Reconsidering Fetal Pain” which looks at recent scientific and medical research on fetal pain, where they have concluded that there is “good evidence” that the unborn child can feel pain as early as 12 weeks.

In their article, they argue that pregnant women considering an abortion from this stage of pregnancy should be made aware of the pain the unborn child could be subject to during the abortion procedure.

Link to video of Parliamentary webinar on Youtube

Pain Clinical Update 2006

The International Association for the Study of Pain published a clinical update on Fetal Pain in June 2006.  Their conclusion was that : The available scientific evidence makes it possible, even probable, that fetal pain perception occurs well before late gestation. Those attempting to deny or delay its occurrence must offer conclusive evidence for the absence of fetal pain at given levels of maturity.

Download the report here...

Fetal Homologue of Infant Crying 2005

A study which findings were published in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edtion, revealed that unborn babies cry within the womb. Ultrasound videos taken of infants within the womb revealed 28-week-old babies crying in response to a noise stimulus. 

View more on the report  here...

View video here of foetus crying...

View the report here...

UK Parliamentary Pro-Life Group 2000

A report from the Parliamentary Pro-Life Group in the UK published in 2000 found that the unborn foetus is capable of feeling pain from the tenth week of pregnancy. The report of findings by 15 scientists from Britain, Ireland and Australia said that foetuses can experience pain earlier than previously thought. Of the 165,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales each year, about 100,000 are performed at nine weeks or later.

The report, runs counter to evidence presented in an official review by Maria Fitzgerald, Professor of Neurodevelopmental Biology at University College Hospital, London, which was commissioned by the Health Department. Her review, Foetal Pain - An Update of Current Scientific Knowledge, published in May 1995, concluded that there was no evidence that the foetus could feel pain earlier than 26 weeks because its brain and neurological system were not sufficiently developed.

Some scientists, not linked with the Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, questioned Professor Fitzgerald's conclusion.

As reported in The Times February 2000, Nicholas Fisk and Vivette Glover, two of Britain's foremost researchers on foetal pain, say the issue demands examination. Professor Fisk, Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital, Chiswick, London measured levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in foetuses from which blood samples were taken in the womb.

He found that the level rose sharply as the needle was inserted. "This is the first evidence that the human foetus mounts a definable stress response to a potentially painful stimulus," he said.

Advances in surgery mean that many foetuses undergo operations inside the womb without analgesia even though pain relief is routinely given to premature babies of the same gestational age undergoing the procedure after birth.

UK Rawlinson Commission 1996

In 1996 the Rawlinson Commission of Inquiry into Foetal Sentience, UK, discovered that a large, and growing, body of evidence suggested that a baby can feel pain and sensation from 11 weeks of gestation.

Human Sentience Before Birth A Report by the Commission of Inquiry into Foetal Sentience...

Lancet 1994, British Medical Journal 1980

Data in the British Medical Journal, Lancet, gave solid confirmation of such pain. It is known that the foetal umbilical cord has no pain receptors such as the rest of the fetal body. Accordingly, they tested fetal hormone stress response comparing puncturing of the abdomen and of the cord.

They observed "the fetus reacts to intrahepatic (liver) needling with vigorous body and breathing movements, but not to cord needling. The levels of these hormones did not vary with fetal age."M. Fisk, et al., Fetal Plasma Cortisol and B-endorphin Response to Intrauterine Needling, Lancet, Vol. 344, July 9, 1994, Pg. 77

Another excellent British study commented on this:

It cannot be comfortable for the fetus to have a scalp electrode implanted on his skin, to have blood taken from the scalp or to suffer the skull compression that may occur even with spontaneous delivery. It is hardly surprising that infants delivered by difficult forceps extraction act as if they have a severe headache.

Valman & Pearson, "What the Fetus Feels," British Med. Jour., Jan. 26, 1980

Pain and It's effects on the Human Neonate and Fetus 1987

On 19 November 1987, the New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 317, Number 21: Pages 1321-1329) printed an special article and concluded :

Numerous lines of evidence suggest that even in the human fetus, pain pathways as well as cortical and subcortical centers necessary for pain perception are well developed late in gestation, and the neurochemical systems now known to be associated with pain transmission and modulation are intact and functional. Physiologic responses to painful stimuli have been well documented in neonates of various gestational ages and are reflected in hormonal, metabolic, and cardiorespiratory changes similar to but greater than those observed in adult subjects. Other responses in newborn infants are suggestive of integrated emotional and behavioral responses to pain and are retained in memory long enough to modify subsequent behavior patterns.

Read the article in the New England Journal of Medicine here...

American Medical Association 1984

The American Medical News reprint reports, "Physicians know that foetuses feel pain ... because [among other things]: "Nerves connecting the spinal cord to peripheral structures have developed between six to eight weeks. Adverse reactions to stimuli are observed between eight and 10 weeks....

You can tell by the contours on their faces that aborted foetuses feel pain," added obstetrician Matthew Bulfin, M.D., of Lauderdale by the Sea, Florida." "He described the case of a 25-year old woman administered a prostaglandin abortion, who expelled her foetus in the middle of the night. Before hospital nurses arrived, she witnessed "the thrashing around and gruesome trauma on his face, and knew that the foetus had suffered."MD Group Claims that Foetuses Suffer Pain," in American Medical News. (pub. by The American Medical Association), Feb. 24 1984, p. 18

Reaction of the Foetus in the film, The Silent Scream 1983

A Realtime ultrasound video tape and movie of a 12- week suction abortion is commercially available as, The Silent Scream, narrated by Dr. B. Nathanson, a former abortionist. It dramatically, but factually, shows the pre-born baby dodging the suction instrument time after time, while its heartbeat doubles in rate. When finally caught, its body being dismembered, the baby's mouth clearly opens wide - hence, the title. Proabortionists have attempted to discredit this film. A well documented paper refuting their charges is available from National Right to Life, 419 7th St. NW, Washington, DC 20004, $2.00 p.p.

A short, 10-minute video showing the testimony of the doctor who did the abortion in Silent Scream definitely debunks any criticism of Silent Scream's accuracy. The Answer, Bernadel, Inc., P.O. Box 1897, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY, 10011.

List of over 200 Physicians 1971

In response to experiments performed on 12 to 16 week foetuses, movements of the head, body and limbs have been observed. These movements were vigorous, and consisted of ventro - or dorsoflexion of the trunk, flexion of the limbs, and turning of the head, indicating the presence of acute foetal pain. It is agreed that a foetus must be heavily sedated before intrauterine manipulation, such as transfusions, because such painful stimuli cause the foetus to move, making the procedure difficult.

In the sixth to seventh weeks, nerves and muscles work together for the first time. If the area of the lips, the first to become sensitive to touch, is gently stroked, the child responds by bending the upper body to one side and making a quick backward motion with his arms. In the ninth and tenth weeks, the child's activity leaps ahead. Now if the forehead is touched, he may turn his head away and pucker up his brow and frown. In the same week, the entire body becomes sensitive to touch.

AMICUS CURIAE 1971 Motion and Brief Amicus Curiae of Certain Physicians, Professors and Fellows of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Support of appellees, submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1971, No. 70-18, Roe v. Wade, and No. 70-40, Doe v. Bolton. Prepared by Dennis J. Horan, (The List of Amici contains the names of over 200 physicians.)

The unborn child feels pain

"The sensory nerve of the face, the Trigeminal nerve, is already present in all of its three branches in a four week old human embryo. At seven weeks they twitch or turn their head away from a stimulus in the same defensive manoeuvre seen at all stages of life."E. Blechschmidt & S. Wintrap, National Right To Life News, Washington DC, May 20, 1987

"Cutaneous sensory receptors appear in the perioral area in the seventh week of gestation."Anand et al., "Pain and Its Effects on the Human Fetus N. Eng. J. Med, vol. 317, no. 21, p. 1322, Nov. 19, 1987

"When doctors first began invading the sanctuary of the womb, they did not know that the unborn baby would react to pain in the same fashion as a child would. But they soon learned that he would."Dr. A. Liley, Prof. of Foetology, University of Aukland, New Zealand

"Pain isn't just psychological. There is also organic, or physiological pain which elicits a neurological response to pain."P. Lubeskind, "Psychology & Physiology of Pain," Amer. Review Psychology, vol. 28, 1977, p. 42

"One of the most uncomfortable ledges that the unborn can encounter is his mother's backbone. If he happens to be lying so that his own backbone is across hers [when the mother lies on her back], the unborn will wiggle around until he can get away from this highly disagreeable position."M. Liley & B. Day, Modern Motherhood, Random House, 1969, p. 42

"Changes in heart rate and foetal movement also suggest that intrauterine manipulations are painful to the foetus."Volman & Pearson, "What the Foetus Feels," British Med. Jour., 26 Jan 1980, pp. 233-234. 

The changes in heart rate and increase in movement suggest that stimuli are painful for the foetus. Certainly it cannot be comfortable for the foetus to have a scalp electrode implanted on his skin, to have blood taken from the scalp or to suffer the skull compression that may occur even with spontaneous delivery. It is hardly surprising that infants delivered by difficult forcepts extraction act as if they have a severe headache.

Volman & Pearson, "What the Foetus Feels," British Medical Journal, 26 Jan 1980