Late Term Abortion & Fetal Pain

A recent national poll by The Polling Company found that, after being informed that there is scientific evidence that unborn children are capable of feeling pain at least by 20 weeks, 64% would support a law banning abortion after 20 weeks, unless the mother’s life was in danger.   Only 30% said they would oppose such a law. Polling from Texas also shows support for the legislation.

The bill relies on the science of fetal pain to establish a Constitutional reason for Congress to ban abortions late in pregnancy.

The science behind the concept of fetal pain is fully established and Dr. Steven Zielinski, an internal medicine physician from Oregon, is one of the leading researchers into it. He first published reports in the 1980s to validate research showing evidence for it. He has testified before Congress that an unborn child could feel pain at “eight-and-a-half weeks and possibly earlier” and that a baby before birth “under the right circumstances, is capable of crying.”

He and his colleagues Dr. Vincent J. Collins and Thomas J. Marzen  were the top researchers to point to fetal pain decades ago. Collins, before his death, was Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois and author of Principles of Anesthesiology, one of the leading medical texts on the control of pain.

“The functioning neurological structures necessary to suffer pain are developed early in a child’s development in the womb,” they wrote. “Functioning neurological structures necessary for pain sensation are in place as early as 8 weeks, but certainly by 13 1/2 weeks of gestation. Sensory nerves, including nociceptors, reach the skin of the fetus before the 9th week of gestation. The first detectable brain activity occurs in the thalamus between the 8th and 10th weeks. The movement of electrical impulses through the neural fibers and spinal column takes place between 8 and 9 weeks gestation. By 13 1/2 weeks, the entire sensory nervous system functions as a whole in all parts of the body,” they continued.

With Zielinski and his colleagues the first to provide the scientific basis for the concept of fetal pain, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center has provided further research to substantiate their work.

“The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies,” explains Steven Calvin, M.D., perinatologist, chair of the Program in Human Rights Medicine, University of Minnesota, where he teaches obstetrics.

Dr. Colleen A. Malloy, Assistant Professor, Division of Neonatology at Northwestern University in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in May 2012 said, “[w]hen we speak of infants at 22 weeks LMP [Note: this is 20 weeks post fertilization], for example, we no longer have to rely solely on inferences or ultrasound imagery, because such premature patients are kicking, moving, reacting, and developing right before our eyes in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.”

“In today’s medical arena, we resuscitate patients at this age and are able to witness their ex-utero growth and development. Medical advancement and technology have enabled us to improve our ability to care for these infants…In fact, standard of care for neonatal intensive care units requires attention to and treatment of neonatal pain,” Dr. Malloy testified.

She continued, “[t]hus, the difference between fetal and neonatal pain is simply the locale in which the pain occurs. The receiver’s experience of the pain is the same. I could never imagine subjecting my tiny patients to horrific procedures such as those that involve limb detachment or cardiac injection.”


Abortions after 20 weeks have been banned in Texas. We are now hearing the familiar argument that all late-term abortions are done because there is a serious health risk for the mother or a major disease or deformity of the baby. Some time ago, Abby Johnson, former clinic director in the largest Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, addressed this issue by saying:

… it is false to say the women who choose late-term abortion do so because of medical reasons. We referred hundreds of women to abort their babies after 24 weeks…not onewas for medical reasons.

This is first handtestimony from a former abortion provider. Of course, some pro-choicers might be hesitant to accept what a pro-life figure has to say. So let’s turn to some studies: In 2003, Katha Pollitt, who is pro-choice, wrote an article for The Nation discussing late-term abortion. She gave the three most common reasons why women had these abortions:

71% didn’t realize they were pregnant 48% had difficulty making arrangements 33% were afraid of telling parents or partner

The study she cites allowed for more than one answer, and these were the most common reasons given. A study in 2006 in Perspectives of Sexual and Reproductive Health, a publication of the Alan Guttmacher institute, which has been affiliated with Planned Parenthood throughout its history, conducted a study of hundreds of women who had second-trimester abortions (the second trimester ends at 27 weeks). It came up with the following results:

68% had no pregnancy symptoms 58% Didn’t confirm the pregnancy until the second trimester 45% had trouble finding abortion provider 37% unsure of date of last menstrual period 30% had difficulty deciding on abortion

Believe it or not, the study sample did not contain a single case of abortion for health reasons. This data indicates that late-term abortions are usually elective. Has it always been this way? In 1998, a survey was sent out to clinics that did late-term abortions. According to data from the 18 clinics that responded:

Only 9.4 percent of late abortions at clinics that responded to the U.S. News survey were done for medical reasons, either to protect the mother’s health(a rare situation) or, more commonly, because of fetal defects such as spina bifida and Down’s syndrome (box, Page 32)…for post-20-week abortions generally, about 90 percent were classified by the clinics as “nonmedical.

It further quotes a clinic worker saying that most of these abortions are done on teenagers  in “total denial” of their pregnancies. In a 1990 article in The Los Angeles Times, a worker at a late-term abortion clinic described the typical late-term abortion patient:

These women know they are pregnant, but not until the 16th or 17th week, when the fetus is kicking and bothering them, do they say, ‘Oh, I have to deal with this.’

Sometimes abortionists and clinic workers who are still performing late-term abortions reveal the fact that most of them are elective. In his response to a 2012 article about a proposed national ban on abortions after 20 weeks, a law similar to the one that just passed in Texas, one practicing abortionist said (emphasis mine):

Thanks for this piece. It resonates with me deeply as a provider of abortion care and as an “out” advocate of reproductive justice, the framework most cogent with your remarks but least known by people moved by this issue. To your point, when advocates have sought stories from me to make the case for abortion, it has always been a request for tragic circumstances, the stories felt to be the most likely ones to move opinion. The reality is that that is not the typical patient I see, as most women having abortions are not raped or are not carrying a lethally flawed fetus, and yet I have not identified a clear distinction between women I am willing to help and those I am not based on “acceptability” of circumstance.”

Pro-choicers like to parade women with the most tragic circumstances before the camera and claim that they are typical of those having late-term abortions. In reality, that does not seem to be the case.


…to label the assertion that the unborn child can experience pain by the 20th week a “lie” and “phony science” (the words are Katie McDonough’s but they are hardly unique to her) is simply to substitute overheated rhetoric for a dispassionate assessment of the evidence.

Which, of course, McDonough flatly states “there really isn’t any.” Really? No evidence? None?

She could take a few minutes out and go to That’s a good start.

Then for more of the extensive evidence that unborn children have the capacity to experience pain, at least by 20 weeks fetal age, McDonough could click on

The science behind the findings in the congressional Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 1797) was explored at a May 23 congressional hearing. If she was looking for evidence, the testimony of the witnesses is posted at

In other words, there is a great deal of evidence supporting the conclusion that by 20 weeks the unborn baby will experience horrific pain when torn apart.

Who does McDonough (writing for rely on? Dr. Anne Davis, a second-trimester abortion “provider,” associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, who told McDonough, “We know a lot about embryology [in the field]. The way that a fetus grows and develops hasn’t changed and never will.”

But does that mean that we know everything there is to know NOW about how the unborn child “grows and develops”? Did we know everything there is to know about how the unborn child “grows and develops” when the standard criticisms were cranked out several years ago? The answer to both is obviously no.

It is, to put it mildly,ironic that the same people who accuse us of being “anti-science” act as if we can never learn anything new.

So, please, at least treat us like thinking adults.

Then there is the analysis written by Nora Caplan-Bricker, an assistant editor at The New Republic which goes even further. Read this carefully. (The “him” is abortionist Leroy Carhart):

“NRLC saw an opportunity to stop him in unfounded claims about fetal pain, and in so doing, stumbled on an artificial, pre-Roe barrier to abortion that hewed closely to Americans’ intuitions.  “But we can’t allow our intuitions to be manipulated so easily. Viability is a firm line, grounded in biological fact. ‘Fetal pain’ is an arbitrary, unscientific line that abortion opponents have only drawn in the hopes that soon, they can push it farther back.

Fetal viability is NOT a firm line. Thanks to medical breakthroughs the point of viability has moved back and back and back. Fetal pain is not arbitrary. It’s an acknowledgement that we know much more than we did just a few years ago, including what specifically it is that the unborn must possess in order to experience pain. If the latter understanding has changed—and it has—there is even more scientific evidence to back up the assertion that by 20 weeks, if not earlier, the unborn child can feel pain.

By the way, those “intuitions” that Americans are prone to? She’s talking about how we instinctively recoil when we pause to think about taking the life of a large, increasingly developed 20-week-old unborn child. Those “intuitions” are a reflection of our baseline humanity.


It is likely that many Americans support late-term abortion limits because they understand that a 20-week-developed baby is only two or three weeks from being capable of surviving outside of the womb. They are aware that the baby can hear his or her parents speaking, and that his or her vital organs are essentially operational—in fact, the most critical phase of development ended around 10 weeks.

These Americans are probably troubled by the substantial medical evidence that a 20-week-developed baby is capable of experiencing pain. In fact, they may have read testimony from Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial, including eye-witness accounts of babies struggling to survive after being born during late-term abortions.

For other Americans, opposition to the use of late-term abortion undoubtedly derives from concerns about the increased risks to women posed by late-term abortions.

Compared to an early first-trimester abortion, the relative risk increases exponentially as the pregnancy continues. Risks from abortion include, but are not limited to, perforation, scarring, or damage to internal organs, infection, hemorrhage, blood clots, incomplete abortion, placenta previa or preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies, psychological or emotional complications, increased risk of breast cancer, and death.

After the first trimester, the risk of hemorrhage from an abortion, in particular, is greater, and the resultant complications may require a hysterectomy, other reparative surgery, or a blood transfusion.

Though opponents of late-term abortion limits argue that continued pregnancy sometimes poses risks to mothers’ lives or health, necessitating the availability of late-term procedures, it is unlikely most Americans believe them.

Obstetrician and gynecologist Mary L. Davenportwrites that “[i]ntentional abortion for maternal health, particularly after viability, is one of the great deceptions used to justify all abortion. . . .With any serious maternal health problem, termination of pregnancy can be accomplished by inducing labor or performing a cesarean section, saving both mother and baby.”

Dr. Davenport notes that according to T. Murphy Goodwin, M.D., a distinguished professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Southern California, “there are only three very rare conditions that result in a maternal mortality greater than 20% in the setting of late pregnancy. Even in these three situations there is room for latitude in waiting for fetal viability. . . .”

Another purported justification for late-term abortion is that it is needed when an unborn baby has an anomaly.

Many Americans unquestionably find the use of late-term abortion when a baby is prenatally diagnosed with a nonfatal birth defect patently offensive. They believe that our society can and should embrace children with disabilities and limitations, and should help their families to cope with challenges that may be posed. There are, also, loving families eager to adopt babies with special needs.

Americans are aware that there are surgical or treatment options for many ill unborn children—in the womb or after birth—to correct problems or improve life expectancy. If abortion is the knee-jerk reaction to certain diagnoses, however, there will be no incentive in the medical community to develop life-affirming options.

Consider what can happen when the medical community is asked to offer life-affirming options—after their baby girl was prenatally diagnosed with a fatal condition, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutlerand her husband bravely asked doctors to continue a treatment that was unexpectedly helping. The result? Baby Abigail Beutler was born in July—the first baby to survive Potter’s Sequence.

Finally, many Americans believe that late-term abortion is not the answer even when an unborn child is tragically diagnosed with fatal birth defects. Instead, perinatal hospice offers a life-affirming alternative to abortion. Rather than pressuring stunned parents to abort their baby, perinatal hospice offers extensive support and birth planning. A team of specialists helps the family experience the life of their child to the fullest before birth. When the baby is born, his or her family is allowed optimum time with their child, creating precious memories.

In summation, Sen. Davis, there are many reasons why Americans, including the authors of this article, support late-term abortion limits. They “understand the landscape.” They can see that late-term abortions are cruel, dangerous, and unnecessary. It is time for the barbaric practice to end.

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