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October 3, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. House voted 237-189 today to protect pain-capable pre-born human babies from grisly late-term abortions.

There's no federal law protecting babies halfway through pregnancy when they can feel pain.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibits abortions on most babies 20 weeks and older on the basis that they feel pain when they are ripped apart limb by limb in dismemberment – or dilation and evacuation (D&E) – abortions.

If the bill passes the Senate and President Trump signs it as he says he will, the U.S. will no longer be one of seven countries with no federal limit on late-term abortions. 

Abortion supporters say it’s “pseudoscience” and “fake science” that five-month-old babies in the womb feel pain as they are torn apart and/or injected with a poison called digoxin to stop their beating hearts. The “junk science” smear often comes from abortionists themselves or organizations that explicitly support abortion with few or no limits.

For example, a 2005 statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) claims there is “no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus experiences pain.”

ACOG supports and lobbies for abortion. Some of its members commit abortions.

But the basic science of embryology and mainstream medical research prove that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks. Some of this research even suggests that babies at that age feel pain more acutely than adults.

'The fetus … can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off'

Some late-term abortions are committed using the “dilation and evacuation” method, which involves opening a woman’s cervix with laminaria (seaweed), draining amniotic fluid from her uterus, and pulling the baby apart limb by limb.

“The most difficult part of the procedure is usually finding, grasping and crushing the baby’s head,” explains.

Other late-term abortions on babies who would be viable outside the womb are committed by injecting digoxin into the womb, causing fatal cardiac arrest for the baby. The baby can feel the needle piercing its body. The stillborn baby is then delivered, usually several days later.

“The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb,” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote of D&E abortions in his dissent for Sternberg v. Carhart in 2000. “The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.”

Born and unborn babies feel pain

As medicine advances, more and more babies born prematurely can survive outside the womb.

One such baby is Micah Pickering, who was born prematurely at 22 weeks and four days. He’s now a healthy five-year-old. The pro-life group the Susan B. Anthony List, which has lobbied extensively for the Pain-Capable Bill, has featured him and his parents in ads and press conferences.

No later than 16 weeks after fertilization, pain receptors are present throughout the baby’s entire body, according to

“Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body and nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization,” the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act says.

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,” according to Dr. Paul Ranalli, a neurologist at the University of Toronto. This suggests 20-week-old babies might feel pain more acutely than older people.

“The embryological evidence of development of nervous system is pretty well-defined,” Dr. Kathi Aultman, a board certified OB/GYN, ACOG fellow, and former abortionist told LifeSiteNews. “And there isn’t much argument about how well developed the nervous system is at 20 weeks.”

“It is clear that the fetus is capable of mounting a physiochemical stress response to noxious stimuli as early as 18 weeks gestation,” the leading textbook on clinical anesthesia, Essential Clinical Anesthesia (published by Cambridge University Press), says. Eighteen weeks gestation is 16 weeks post-fertilization.

Aultman is now an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Before she became pro-life, she was the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Jacksonville and participated in second-trimester abortions, some when the baby was older than 20 weeks.

Aultman explained that 20 weeks from fertilization, “the actual age of the fetus,” would be classified as 22 weeks gestational age, which is what most doctors use.

But “for the purposes of this bill, I’ll use the age from fertilization,” she said.

“We know how developed the nervous system is at [20 weeks],” Aultman told LifeSiteNews. “All the connections are made by that point so that the fetus can feel pain. Those that are against this bill say that they agree that all the neurological structures are there. However, they feel that the connections between the cortex and the thalamus are not yet developed or not well enough developed and therefore the fetus can’t feel pain the way you or I would feel pain.”

The cortex is the part of the brain responsible for sensation. The thalamus is the part of the brain “through which sensory impulses pass to reach the cerebral cortex.”

Similar claims about a lack of connection between the thalamus and cortex have been made to argue that babies can’t really feel pain like other humans for the first year of their life, Aultman said.

“And that’s the reason why, when I was a resident, the OB/GYNs used to do all of the circumcisions and we did not give [the babies] any sort of pain relief,” she said. “We didn’t give them local [anesthesia] or anything else. We just operated on them. And it was a horrible experience because they yelled, they screamed, they cried, they just – they quivered.”

“It was terrible,” she said. “And they continued to be upset long after we finished the circumcision. The rationale was that they really couldn’t experience pain and they wouldn’t remember it and so we didn’t need to give them anesthesia. That belief has been thankfully changed, and now we do give babies anesthesia for circumcisions.”

“The physicians who are against this Act supposedly because they feel that the cortical connection isn’t there,” preventing babies from feeling pain the way older humans do, use “the same rationale that was used for these [neo-natal babies],” said Aultman.

“When I did my rotation in the neonatal intensive care unit, there were little babies there not much older than 20 weeks and they definitely felt pain,” she continued. “When you would stick their heel to get blood, or try to start an IV, they definitely felt pain. They certainly reacted. Now, these physicians would say…it’s just a reaction like a knee-jerk reaction.”

It wasn’t just a “knee-jerk reaction,” said Aultman. “Those babies were in pain and they did not do well.”

The same doctors who deny the full reality of fetal pain “also recognize that it’s important to treat pain in the fetus because…they acknowledge that if the fetus experiences pain, it can” negatively affect their nervous systems, “which can be detrimental to them later.”

“It’s interesting to me that they would agree with that and yet keep saying, ‘but, they don’t really experience pain because they don’t have the cortical development,’” she said.  

“The position, asserted by some physicians, that the unborn child is incapable of experiencing pain until a point later in pregnancy than 20 weeks after fertilization [predominantly] rests on the assumption that the ability to experience pain depends on the cerebral cortex and requires nerve connections between the thalamus and the cortex,” the Pain-Capable Bill acknowledges. “However, recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.”

Anesthesia for wanted babies of the same age

When wanted babies receive an intrauterine operation, it’s standard medical practice to give them anesthesia.

“Anesthesiologists believe they feel pain and they feel it needs to be treated if they’re doing intrauterine surgery,” said Aultman. “What they’ve found is that [babies] need narcotics or something to actually treat the pain in order for their outcomes to be improved.”

Just as it would be “awful” for an adult to undergo surgery paralyzed but not anesthetized by drugs, it’s similarly traumatizing for a baby in the womb.

“Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on unborn children have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions,” explains. “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.”

Even if babies didn’t feel pain during late-term abortions, those abortions would still be wrong. Every abortion ends the life of a whole, distinct, living human being, even if the baby is in her earliest part of life at only a few weeks old. Feeling pain isn’t what makes a human a human.

Perhaps the barbarity and gruesomeness of painful late-term abortions will cause Americans to re-think whether we should at all be tolerating the dismemberment, poisoning, and starving of babies at anytime during pregnancy.

More information about the evidence for fetal pain can be found at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and

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As a journalist and editor for LifeSiteNews, Claire Chretien has written more than 1,500 articles about abortion, human dignity, bioethics, the Catholic Church, politics, and related topics. Claire holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Alabama. It was there that she first became involved in pro-life activism.