General Question

KateTheGreat's avatar

During the process of abortion, can the baby feel it?

Asked by KateTheGreat (13595 points ) April 19th, 2011

Can an unborn baby feel when it’s being aborted?

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40 Answers

Seelix's avatar

I think that depends on your stance as to when life begins. If you’re of the mind that it’s just a mass of undeveloped cells, then no, it can’t feel anything. Others who feel differently about abortion will likely have different answers, but I believe that if an abortion is performed early enough (within the first 16 weeks, or whatever the “standard” is), then no.

minniemau5's avatar

I did a project in my last year of high school on when human life begins. I did a lot of research on early fetal development, and from what I remember, the answer to your question is yes, but it depends on how far along in its development the baby is. There is a certain point in development that must be reached until the baby is able to feel pain. I’m no expert but I would think that an abortion done very early in pregnancy would cause no pain to the fetus because they haven’t formed the necessary nerve pathways in order to feel pain. There is some evidence that the fetus does feel pain by the end the second trimester, when the nerve pathways are developed. When late-term and partial birth abortions are performed, anesthesia is not used, so the fetus most likely feels pain during the procedure as limbs may be pulled off and scissors are used to puncture its skull.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
MyNewtBoobs's avatar

“Authorities in both the U.S and Great Britain have conducted thorough reviews of all available studies of fetal pain. Both groups of experts have found that there is no evidence that fetuses develop the neural pathways necessary to feel pain until well into the third trimester. In fact, there is increasing evidence that the fetus never experiences the state of true wakefulness that is necessary for the experience of pain. Instead, new research shows that the fetus is kept in a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness by the presence of specific chemicals in the uterine environment. This makes sense; if a fetus inside the uterus could experience pain in the way that a baby can outside of the uterus, the sensation of having its head squeezed through the vaginal canal during birth would be excruciating! ” (source.)

crisw's avatar

The answer to this question has absolutely nothing to do with how someone feels about abortion, or when life begins. It’s a question of neurology, plain and simple.

Before the age of 24 weeks gestation or so, the neural circuitry of the brain isn’t developed enough to transmit any signals of pain. And, as @MyNewtBoobs has pointed out, there is some doubt that pain can be felt at any time before birth.

pshizzle's avatar

I don’t think they can.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Blondesjon's avatar

More than likely they can’t but, big picture-wise, would it really change anything if they could?

Pro-Choicers would still be Pro-Choicers and Pro-Lifers would still be Pro-Lifers. Sure, you might change a few minds but in the end, like with religion and politics, ain’t nobody gonna change sides.

The issue of abortion has, unfortunately, become about which side is right and which side is wrong. It has nothing to do with what feelings, thoughts, or rights the fetus itself may have.

for the record i am pro-choice

JLeslie's avatar

I think with late term they can or do kill the fetus before aborting it. I would assume by injection, which is probably fast and painless. It seems to me if they don’t they risk someone saying they have to try to save the baby. I know in some states they want to require a neonatal doctor in the same room as the doctor performing the abortion. Something like that. Maybe someone knows for sure. That does not answer the question ofnwhether the fetus is capable of feeling pain, but it should reassure you it doesn’t suffer any. However, I think killing the fetus has more to do with the legalities.

Nullo's avatar

I don’t see why not; the unborn have nervous systems, after all, and do react to stimuli.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

I’m sure he/she does, but because the poor thing doesn’t have a “voice”, he/she can’t tell us.

crisw's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES
@Nullo

Do you have any data to support your positions? As I mentioned above, this is a matter of neurology. If your viewpoint were correct, there would be neurological studies showing, specifically, how an embryo or fetus could fell pain.

Reacting to stimuli is not the same thing as feeling pain. It’s not necessary to feel pain in order to react to stimuli- after all, both thermostats and plants react to stimuli. And fetuses do have nervous systems- but not fully-developed nervous systems.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

@crisw No, and that’s exactly the point of my answer. How can we, the living, gather “data” if the ones who are aborted can’t tell us about what they’re feeling?

It’s like asking for supportive data from people who have passed away of what death encompasses. We who are alive will never know the answer to that question.

JLeslie's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES Science can deduce it by learning about the brain, where pain is felt, what is necessary in terms of neural development to feel pain, etc.

Nullo's avatar

@crisw The Mayo Clinic site says that neurological development begins at about Week Five. Being kind of important, it gets put in pretty early on.
Anyway, I said, “I don’t see why not.” I suspect that leaves it up to you to tell me that I’m wrong.

I honestly don’t see people lining up to test this.

crisw's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES

“How can we, the living, gather “data” if the ones who are [being studied] can’t tell us about what they’re feeling?”

Well, if you were correct, then we could never know anything about the neurology of any living thing except adult humans that can speak. Obviously, that isn’t the case. Again, where is your data? There are myriads of neurological and developmental studies out there; which ones support your viewpoint?

@Nullo

Sure, the nervous system begins to form then. That doesn’t mean that it is fully functional. It takes months to build a house, but the lights don’t work the minute I begin framing it. A working nervous system requires a lot more than the rudimentary cell differentiation present at five weeks.

Nullo's avatar

@crisw Of course it’s not fully functional. The question is about if it’s functional enough to feel pain. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be sufficiently functional before birth. Unlike houses, tissue kinda tends to work on a cellular level. You ever noticed how severed limbs don’t die the moment they’re severed? Depending on things like the quality of the cut and the promptness of the care, the docs might even be able to reattach them for you. Granted, five weeks seems a bit early.

Ultimately, it makes no difference to me; I don’t rate human life in terms of overall sentience. Just because a person doesn’t feel pain doesn’t mean that it’s okay to hacking bits off of him.

jonsblond's avatar

I agree with @MRSHINYSHOES. (I was trying to make the same point, but apparently it was considered “unhelpful”)

bkcunningham's avatar

James Elgin Gill was born in 1987 at 21 weeks and 5 days gestation. Amillia Taylor was born at 21 weeks and six days gestation in 2006..

Leanne1986's avatar

I don’t know for sure but @MyNewtBoobs answer makes the most sense to me.

crisw's avatar

@Nullo

“The question is about if it’s functional enough to feel pain”

As I pointed out, there are many scientific studies (for example this one) that show it is not. If there’s no data showing it’s possible, then, in order to present any real argument that it is, you have to present your data.

bkcunningham's avatar

Really, if you think about it, I suppose @MyNewtBoobs explanation does make sense. The question, to me, then becomes, does it matter if something alive is capable of feeling pain to kill it or not? Why would that be the standard or the gauge? I mean, is that really the question then? So could you say, since newborn puppies and kittens haven’t yet developed sight or hearing at birth, could the absense of sight and hearing be the standard that it is okay to destroy a new life? Does any of that make sense?

crisw's avatar

@bkcunningham

“does it matter if something alive is capable of feeling pain to kill it or not?”

It matters more whether or not the being is sentient and whether it can survive independently.

Embryos and fetuses are not sentient, for the same reasons that they cannot feel pain. Their nervous systems are simply not developed enough to be aware or to have preferences or desires. In addition, the continued survival of an embryo depends on its usage of the resources provided by the mother; it cannot survive without this.

Although it is not a good argument for the pro-choice side because it’s addressing the behavior of the anti-choice movement rather than its premises, I find it hypocritical that many of those against abortion because they believe that it causes pain and suffering to fetuses have absolutely no problem with the suffering and death of far more sentient animals.

jonsblond's avatar

@crisw I’m sure those people that you find hypocrites would think the same of someone that supports abortion, yet are against the suffering and death of animals that are killed for food. (btw- I am pro-choice, though I could never have an abortion myself. I find it interesting that my comments above are probably viewed as anti-choice. I would never tell another woman what she can and can’t do with her body.)

bkcunningham's avatar

@crisw a baby born full term cannot survive without help from a “mother.” I love your answer @jonsblond. And I’m not arguing with you @crisw. You and I both have opinions. Just like respecting a woman’s right to make decisions for herself, we each have that same right with what we believe. I like to hear what you have to say, very much actually I knew in my heart you’d respond to my comment. I don’t always agree with you, nor you with I, but it is interesting to see another point of view. Don’t you think?—

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t see why we should question the OP’s curiosity of whether the fetus can feel pain or not? The OP did not state whether she was pro-choice or not. Seems like a simple physiological question.

As far as whether it matter if the fetus feels pain, it matters to me. If it can, I prefer the abortion be done in the most painless way possible for the fetus.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham A full term baby, a viable baby, survives separate from the mother.

bkcunningham's avatar

A newborn baby requires that someone mother it @JLeslie. People sometimes let little babies lay and die because they don’t feed or see to its needs. I have known two people in my life who have flat heads because they were left for days without someone lifting their little bodies and allowing them to turn. The little soft soft on the back of their heads flattened and they are like that to this day 50 or some odd years later.

jonsblond's avatar

@bkcunningham We had a terrible case in our area a few years back where a baby was left in her car seat in a home and was left for dead. The parents are now in prison, the baby didn’t live.

A baby needs someone to care for it, it can’t care for itself.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham Before the baby is viable if it is removed from the mother it needs extreme measure just to keep breathing. Feeding it and nurturing it is not what people are talking about when we say the fetus is dependent on the mother. The fetus is basically parasitic until viable, just the simple removal causes death, forget about needing to feed it wthin a few hours.

crisw's avatar

@bkcunningham

@JLeslie pretty much summed up what I was going to say. The fetus can only survive with the resources of its biological mother. Once a baby is born, it can survive with resources from other people; not just the biological mother. In order to keep a fetus alive despite the mother’‘s will, the mother would have to be forced to devote resources to it. Once a baby is born, as others who want the baby can care for it, there is no such coercion.

bkcunningham's avatar

@crisw but when someone takes the care and resources with a fetus once it is born; they are the mother.

JLeslie's avatar

The point is if you take the crying just born baby and lay it in a bassinette, it lives, on its own, an independent being. It is just as fully formed and self sufficient as an adult human being. If you were put in a room with no windows and no doors, and no access to food or water, you are no less an independent life than if you are in your kitchen eating a hamburger. Needing food and cuddles does not determine viability.

The only place you might have an argument is that needing medical help does not necessarily mean a life is not a full fledged life.

bkcunningham's avatar

It does to me @JLeslie. I couldn’t live without food or cuddles.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@bkcunningham does it matter if something alive is capable of feeling pain to kill it or not. It matters because some pro-life groups use this as the rationale for restricting abortions after a certain point – it’s the case against “late term” abortions. If the science they’re basing it on is bad, then their point is weak. Now, it’s hardly the only case against abortion, but it is one of the major ones that stays with science, and doesn’t delve into spiritual matters.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

@crisw You can go on and on about all the scientific data and neurological studies out there, and arguing for the need to “see” data that supports the fact that fetuses feel pain, but all the scientific data in the world will never give us an answer, just like it can never, ever tell us what lies beyond death. Sometimes people think science is the end-all, when really it is not. Science and scientific data do not tell us everything. Some people may think so, but they’re mighty foolish to think such.

The only real person who can tell you whether a fetus can feel pain or not is the fetus him/herself. It’s like a white guy who says he knows exactly how blacks feel when they are racially discriminated against. He can never know, because he is not black and has never experienced it for himself. Sure, he may deduce through “scientific data” and “case studies” for supporting his viewpoint, but he will never know. Even if he disguised himself as a black person to study it, he will never fully realize and comprehend what it “really” feels like, because he has not fully lived the life of a black person, and a mere “glimpse” of life through imitation is not enough.

crisw's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES

“all the scientific data in the world will never give us an answer”

Well, all the scientific data I am aware of point in one direction. I don’t think you’d state that, despite all the studies of gravity over the years, that it’s likely that, when I drop a cup tomorrow, it will float upwards instead of dropping to the ground. You can claim whatever you wish, but f you don’t have any data to back up your claim, it’s hard to take it seriously. And, when it comes to fetal pain before 20–26 weeks gestation, you have the very real issue that, if you claim a fetus early in gestation feels pain, you also need to describe a plausible mechanism for how it can do so. This is not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of sheer biological plausibility.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

@crisw I think when people muddle themselves too much in scientific theory and minutiae, they tend to lose perspective on things. Um, a fetus is a human being my friend.

Again, you overlooked what I said, because what I said makes total sense. You keep saying I need a “plausible mechanism” for how it can feel pain. And I say you can’t measure that, because the fetus can’t tell you. It’s a no-brainer, and by concerning yourself with trying to get scientific measure, you lose sight of what’s real.

It’s just like trying to quantify racism. You can’t. If you’re a white person, you can never really know what real racism is like for blacks for example, because you are not black. Re-read my previous comments my friend, and you will in time realize how much sense I making.

Anyhow, enough has been said here. This comment thread has gone on far too long. I will end my discussion here and not re-visit. So long.

JLeslie's avatar

And that reinforces why people say the religious don’t care about science. Abortion is an ethical question no matter what, no need to ignore science.

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