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MPs launch parliamentary motion highlighting latest evidence on fetal pain

Carla Lockhart MP has led a group of MPs who have submitted a motion on fetal pain calling on the Government to require pain relief for babies after 12 weeks’ gestation in all invasive medical procedures including abortion.

The Early Day Motion (EDM) has now been signed by 16 MPs.

In particular, the EDM highlights the inconsistency of providing pain relief for those babies in the womb who are undergoing surgery for spina bifida but not for babies who are being aborted at the same gestational age.

The motion cites a report on Foetal Sentience and Pain commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, as well as “recent research by Dr Stuart WG Derbyshire and John C Bockmann PA in the Journal of Medical Ethics” which “supports the view that babies in the womb may feel pain from as early as 12 weeks’ gestation”.

As well as highlighting the inconsistency of providing pain relief for babies undergoing surgery for spina bifida and not providing any pain relief for babies at the same gestational age whose lives are being ended through abortion, the motion notes:

“that the killing of protected animals from two-thirds of gestation is subject to tighter legal regulation than unborn humans being aborted from the same stage of development”.

EDMs are unlikely to be debated in the House of Commons, but they serve as an effective means of drawing attention to an issue of importance.

Fetal pain

Last year, a large number of MPs attended a Parliamentary webinar hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (APPPG) to discuss the evidence that indicates that the unborn baby may feel pain from as early as 12 weeks’ gestation.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum heard from John C Bockmann PA, a U.S. Army physician assistant and member of the Conner Troop Medical Clinic at Fort Drum, New York, and Dr Stuart WG Derbyshire, an Associate Professor in Psychology at the National University of Singapore.

The two recently collaborated on the Journal of Medical Ethics article ‘Reconsidering Fetal Pain’. Though they hold ‘divergent views regarding the morality of abortion’, they approach the issue of fetal pain based on recent scientific and medical developments.

“Good evidence” that the fetus can feel pain from 12 weeks’ gestation

Both Dr Derbyshire and John C Bockmann PA believe there is “good evidence” that the brain and nervous system, which start developing at 12 weeks’ gestation, are sufficient for the baby to feel pain. In their study, they argue that women considering abortion at this stage of pregnancy should be told about the pain their unborn baby could experience while being terminated.

Currently, the use of fetal pain relief in the UK is not required by law or advised in official NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) or RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists) guidelines.

The moral implications of fetal pain

One mother who felt misinformed about the evidence for fetal pain claims she was not capable of giving her fully informed consent for an abortion, and that she would not have chosen abortion had she been provided with this information.

Ana Maria Tudor, who had an abortion at a British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic, told the Mail on Sunday last year: “I did not find out a baby at 23 weeks might be able to feel pain until afterwards. It made me feel awful and I now deeply regret my decision”. She began legal proceedings last year.

Right To Life UK  spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “In 2019, 17,258 women underwent an abortion at 13 weeks or later in England and Wales. It is likely that almost none of these women will have been informed about the probability of their baby experiencing pain during the abortion. 

Sadly, the politics of abortion has meant that the medical establishment has strenuously avoided this uncomfortable issue claiming, since 2010, that the fetus cannot experience pain before 24 weeks. This is highly convenient, of course, as this is the time limit for the majority of abortions in the United Kingdom”.

“As the evidence emerges that fetuses can feel pain and MPs draw attention to this fact through EDMs and other means, hopefully this consensus will begin to crumble. The evidence that babies can feel pain in the womb, and during many abortions, highlights the humanity of the unborn child and provides another important reason to introduce legislation to protect the unborn child from abortion”.

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