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The Basics

A wealth of anatomicalbehavioral and physiological evidence shows that the developing human fetus is capable of experiencing tremendous pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Anatomical:

Pain receptors are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body by no later than 16 weeks after fertilization, and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks. For unborn children, says Dr. Paul Ranalli, a neurologist at the University of Toronto, 20 weeks is a “uniquely vulnerable time, since the pain system is fully established, yet the higher level pain-modifying system has barely begun to develop.” As a result, unborn babies at this age probably feel pain more intensely than adults.

Behavioral:

By 8 weeks after fertilization, the unborn child reacts to touch. By 20 weeks post-fertilization, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human—for example, by recoiling. Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on unborn children have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions. In addition, ultrasound technology shows that unborn babies at 20 weeks and earlier react physically to outside stimuli such as sound, light and touch.

Physiological:

The application of painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in the unborn child’s stress hormones. During fetal surgery, anesthesia is routinely administered to the unborn baby and is associated with a decrease in stress hormones compared to their level when painful stimuli is applied without such anesthesia.

Abortion at 20 weeks

Despite the fetus’s advanced development at 20 weeks, the following abortion procedures are the most commonly used:

  • Dilation and Evacuation (D&E): Sharp-edged instruments are used to grasp, twist, and tear the baby’s body into pieces.  This continues until the child’s entire body is removed from the womb.  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy describes the procedure saying, “The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb.”
  • Digoxin abortion: A drug called digoxin is injected directly into the baby’s heart, giving the fetus a fatal heart attack.  The dead baby is then removed from his or her mother by dismemberment.