NRL News

Study in prestigious medical journal makes a strong case that unborn babies are capable of experiencing pain

by | Jan 20, 2020

By Dave Andrusko

Support for the position that unborn babies can experience pain by the 20th week after fertilization and “something like pain” much earlier, has come from a very unexpected source.

One of the joint authors of “Reconsidering fetal pain” is Stuart Derbyshire, who is firmly ensconced in the “pro-choice” camp. As the Daily Mail wrote in its coverage of the study, which appeared in the Journal of Medical Ethics, ”The controversial article has been authored British professor Stuart Derbyshire, who has written back in 2006 in the British Medical Journal that the practice of not talking to women seeking abortions about fetal pain was ‘sound policy based on good evidence that fetuses cannot experience pain.’”

That is no longer Prof. Derbyshire’s position. He is still pro-abortion and his “solution” to the mounting evidence that the unborn child can feel pain is “to consider some form of fetal analgesia during later abortion.” But to move forward without raising the real possibility that the unborn child could experience pain while being killed “flirts with a moral recklessness that we are motivated to avoid.”

Prof. Derbyshire and colleague John Bockmann begin with the “consensus” that fetal pain could not be experienced before 24 weeks. Then, to their credit, they write, “Arguably, there never was a consensus that fetal pain is not possible before 24 weeks. Many papers discussing fetal pain have speculated a lower limit for fetal pain under 20 weeks’ gestation. … Regardless of whether there ever was a consensus, however, it is now clear that the consensus is no longer tenable.”

They then explore a variety of studies and approaches (as those who have written that the unborn baby experiences pain by at least 20 weeks have explored)that challenge the “necessity of the cortex for pain.” That is one of the reasons the 24 week cut off point for performing abortion was established—“that the cortex only becomes functional and the tracts only develop after 24 weeks.”

Near the beginning, Derbyshire and Brockmann observe

The two authors of this paper have very different views on the morality of abortion. One of us believes that abortion is necessary for women’s health and autonomy, while the other believes that abortion violates the ethical principle of non-maleficence and ought to be restricted and discouraged. Regardless of our stark differences on this question, we both believe that our moral views on abortion should not interfere with discussion of whether fetal pain is possible and whether the science of fetal development can rule out the possibility of fetal pain. We also agree that if fetal pain is likely then that has ethical and clinical significance independent of any views on the morality of abortion per se. That said, it is also clear to us that the issue of fetal pain has ethical significance because of abortion practices and not because of other surgical or therapeutic fetal procedures.

Near the conclusion, under the section labeled, “Final Thoughts,” Derbyshire and Brockmann conclude

The two authors came together to write this paper through a shared sense that the neuroscientific data, especially more recent data, could not support a categorical rejection of fetal pain. We also both grew increasingly dissatisfied with the rejection of fetal pain based on a definition of pain that is useful when dealing with patients presenting with pain, but not appropriate to considering the kind of pain a fetus might plausibly experience.

This evidence will, of course, be brushed aside. The Abortion Industry and its allies in academia and the media are invested in the position that fetal pain is not possible before 24 weeks.

Other who defend abortion go further—they contend that the capacity may not exist until 29 weeks or perhaps not until birth!

But studies such as this and others are chipping away at these increasingly indefensible positions.

Editor’s note. If you want to peruse stories all day long, go directly to and/or follow me on Twitter at

Categories: fetal pain