New Study: First-Trimester Babies May Feel Pain

by Trey Elmore  •  •  April 18, 2017   

The unborn have far more advanced nerve systems than previously thought

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DETROIT ( - A new study is suggesting unborn babies in the first trimester may experience pain. The scientific journal Cell, in a study etitled "Tridimensional Visualization and Analysis of Early Human Development," published in March, sheds light on the advanced neurological development of the unborn.

Although the study comes to no definitive conclusion, embryologists now have a clearer picture of the extent of nerve development at early stages of gestation — a greater level of development than previously thought. The study says that "adult-like pattern of skin innervation is established before the end of the first trimester, showing important intra- and inter-individual variations in nerve branches."

The medical field has had much to say on the science of fetal pain, including as the unborn child moves in response to external stimuli such as touch as early as eight weeks. "The fetus starts to make movements in response to being touched from eight weeks, and more complex movements build up as detected by real time ultrasound over the next few weeks," said Vivette Glover of the Imperial College London in 2004.

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The Catholic Church emphatically declares the evil of abortion at any stage of gestation, regardless of whether the unborn child feels pain.

"Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception," states section 2270 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person, among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.'"

As of January, according to National Right to Life, 16 states have enacted laws protecting the unborn from procedures that can cause suffering. Seven of those states have likewise enacted dismemberment abortion bans.

Although the surgical abortion rate has decreased, falling below 1973 levels around 2012, the number of contraceptive abortions remain incalculable, especially given steep increases in contraceptive use, including among teenagers in the last 30 years, as well as the rise in do-it-yourself abortions done in the privacy of one's home.

Despite these trends, and the close moral and practical connection between contraception and abortion, polls show an increase in Americans regarding abortion as morally wrong. The developing science of fetal pain may be one area of knowledge shedding light on the humanity of the unborn, along with the advent of the sonogram and attendant use of the technology by pro-life organizations and legislatures.

Previously abortion providers and the abortion industry pointed to a 2005 study claiming that the unborn do not feel pain until 20 weeks' gestation. If the current research begins to challenge that conclusion, pro-life advocates may expect denial of this new science to complement the current public episodes of denial and evasion or outright silence, as in the case of the scandal that broke out around Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell in 2011.

Since the exposure of the Gosnell operation and the subsequent legislation in states like Texas enacting new regulations on abortion mills, the pro-abortion movement has been visibly, increasingly engaging in shout-downs (including pouring baby powder on opponents) against pro-life views. The current picture of the pro-abortion movement stands in contrast to the days when the unborn were said to be only collections of tissue, and academics contrived elaborate rationalizations of abortion involving hypothetical "famous violinists".

The famous violinist argument involves imagining a scenario in which you've been kidnapped and wake up with a musician's circulatory system plugged into yours, so that you share kidney function with the other person with failing kidneys. The argument asks if it is morally acceptable to unplug yourself and allow the musician to die of kidney failure.

The argument was formulated in 1971 by moral philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson. Its most glaring error is that it ignores the moral distinction between allowing someone to die of natural causes and willfully taking life as an act of aggression, as happens with abortion and euthanasia.

Other errors in the argument include the equivalency asserted between the relationship of an adult to another adult stranger, and the relationship of a mother to her unborn child, as well as the rationale created for behaviors that harm the unborn child besides abortion, such as using illicit drugs, smoking, drinking or taking Thalidomide for morning sickness while knowing of its connection to birth defects.


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