What does an unborn child feel during an abortion?

Testimony given by Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a pediatrician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, speaking on behalf of the Bush administration to defend the ban on partial-birth abortion, explained how unborn children have the ability to feel intense pain during the abortion procedure. (Click here for medically accurate drawings of the partial-birth abortion procedure)

Dr. Anand hypothesized that unborn children suffer “severe and excruciating” pain because the fetus is conscious during the abortion procedure. He explained that the baby shows increased heart rate, blood flow, and hormone levels responding to the pain during the abortion. The physiological responses have been very clearly studied and since the fetus cannot talk, this is the best evidence available.

In Dr. Anand’s Summary of Opinion, he explains that the human fetus possesses the ability to experience pain from 20 weeks of gestation, if not earlier, and the pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by a term newborn or older child. This is because the highest density for pain receptors per square inch of skin in human development occurs in utero from 20 to 30 weeks gestation. Since they have more receptors per square inch of skin than full term babies and their epidermis is still very thin, leaving nerve fibers closer to the surface of the skin than in older neonates and adults, they experience pain more intensely than older infants, children, or adults.

Fully functioning sensory receptors appear in the skin around the mouth of the fetus at 7 weeks and spread to all skin and mucous surfaces before 20 weeks of gestation. Nerve fibers precede the appearance of these skin receptors and are capable of transmitting sensory stimuli from the periphery to the spinal cord at all times. For entire report by Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand in PDF format, click here.

Fetal pain associated with abortion has been a hot topic in recent Congressional debates dealing with the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (S.51) submitted by Sen. Sam Brownback in 2005. To read a summary of the bill in PDF format, click here.

For a National Right to Life fact sheet on Fetal Pain that can be downloaded for educational use, go to http://www.nrlc.org/factsheets/index.html and scroll down to the Pain of the Unborn fact sheet.