The Point: The Pain of the Unborn

While the unborn do not have a voice to scream, science tells us that by week 20 a child in the womb is capable of feeling pain. Dr. Sunny Anand, Director of the Pain Neurobiology Laboratory at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute, testified before Congress: "The pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children . . . . The highest density of pain receptors per square inch of skin in human development occurs in utero from 20 to 30 weeks gestation. During this period, the epidermis is still very thin, leaving nerve fibers closer to the surface of the skin than in older neonates and adults." To make matters worse, the biological mechanisms that inhibit the experience of pain do not begin to develop until weeks 30 to 32.

Yet ironically, an unborn child has less legal protection from feeling pain than commercial livestock. In a slaughterhouse, a method of slaughter is deemed legally humane only if, as the hundred-year-old law states, “all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical, or other means that is rapid and effective.” By contrast, D&E abortions, performed as late as 24 weeks, involve the dismemberment of the unborn child by a pair of sharp metal forceps. Instillation methods of abortion replace up to one cup of amniotic fluid with concentrated salt solution, which the unborn child inhales as the salt burns her skin. The child lives in this condition up to an hour.

These things may be uncomfortable to hear. That is precisely the point. We should not be comfortable in a society where such things exist, and where we have power to influence change. The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act is scheduled for consideration in the House next week. This legislation would require that women seeking abortions are fully informed of the pain that that their unborn baby feels when he or she is aborted 20 weeks or more after fertilization. If that knowledge does not deter the mother in what has come to be reduced to a mere “choice,” she must be offered the opportunity to give the unborn child drugs to ease his or her pain.

Pro-abortion advocates dread and fear this legislation. It brings to light difficult questions, like why livestock have more rights than an unborn child. Questions like these, like the cries of victims, are hard to stifle once they have shaken us from the comfort of our parlor chairs. As Wilberforce once said, when he had laid bare the evil of the slave trade before Parliament, “We can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us; we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside to avoid seeing it.”

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