Sorry NYT, Babies Can Feel Pain At 20 Weeks

August 5th, 2013 1:00 PM

In his August 2 article, Theory On Pain Is Driving Rules For Abortion, New York Times's Erik Eckholm set about to critique how the "theory" of fetal pain is driving a push by pro-lifers for state laws tightening up abortion restrictions. Yet, in trying to convince readers that "fetal pain" is a fringe medical theory, he failed to cite any mainstream medical journal that explicitly rules out the probability that unborn children feel pain in the womb.

“[M]ost scientists and medical associations say that perception of pain is impossible without brain developments that occur well after 20 weeks,” Eckholm insisted, overlooking a 1999 British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology study finding:

The most important evidence [of fetal pain] is anatomical. For the fetus to feel pain, it is necessary for the requisite nociceptive pathways to be developed. This involves neural connections between peripheral receptors and the spinal cord, upward transmission via the spinal cord to the thalamus, and from there to the outer cerebral layers.

Those pathways are developed at 20 weeks, therefore, an unborn baby at the point in the pregnancy can feel pain.  How much pain is a different story, but as Jordan Gonzalez of the American Spectator explained last June:

Among the scientific jargon lies a key word – “nociception,” which has to do with nociceptive neurons. These “generate trains of action potentials in response to painful stimuli, and the frequency of firing signals the intensity of the pain.” In other words, they are what make pain painful. Glover and Fisk say that “most incoming pathways, including nociceptive ones, are routed through the thalamus and, as stated above, penetrate the subplate zone from about 17 weeks” into a pregnancy.


“Given the anatomical evidence, it is possible that the fetus can feel pain from 20 weeks and is caused distress by interventions from as early as 15 or 16 weeks. This sets a limit to the earliest stage that analgesia might be considered

Now, before abortion rights absolutists go crazy, the doctors involved in the study weren't pushing an anti-abortion message – they simply concluded that a painkiller should probably be administered before an abortion is executed.

But the fact remains, an unborn baby being ripped limb from limb in the womb will most likely feel pain.

Is it any wonder then that most voters, including many self-described pro-choicers, are okay with limiting if not outright banning abortions after 20 weeks, as Eckholm himself noted by citing Gallup poll results? 

Nonetheless, Eckholm egregiously ended his piece by favorably citing infamous late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart, all the while omitting that Carhart's late-term abortion clinic in Maryland was the subject of a state investigation after patient Jennifer Morbelli died subsequent to a botched abortion. While the medical examiner cleared Carhart of any responsibility, it's highly unlikely Morbelli would have died had she not carried the child to term and given birth in a hospital, where any complications from delivery could have been immediately treated.