Fetal Pain: A Red Herring in the Abortion Debate
While searching for something else, I ran across a good article discussing fetal pain. Here’s a sample:
What of the claim by anti-choicers that even very early fetuses can feel pain? In fetal development, most major organs exist in rudimentary form by about 8 to 9 weeks. It takes several months for these organs to grow in size, complexity, and organization to the point they can function. For example, the myelin sheath—the insulating cover on nerve pathways that is required for efficient conduction of pain signals—does not begin forming around nervous system cells (neurons) in the spinal cord until about 24 weeks, and not till after birth in most of the cerebral cortex. Although sporadic brain waves can be detected by about 21 weeks gestation, genuine continuous brain waves do not begin until about 28 weeks, indicating that the nerve circuits needed to carry pain impulses to the brain are not fully connected till then. This also marks the beginnings of conscious awareness, which is generally considered a requirement for experiencing pain.
Anti-choicers believe early fetuses feel pain because 8 week-old fetuses already have some peripheral nerve endings that are connected to the spinal cord, allowing them to react to touch and other stimuli. However, this is a simple reflex response that has no conscious awareness associated with it, such as when your lower leg jerks up when your knee is tapped. [...] There is no necessary connection between fetal movement and mental awareness, as we know from the famous example of headless running chickens.
The article comes from a Canadian online pro-choice magazine, Pro-Choice Press, which seems to have a lot of good material. In particular, I thought the Summer 2003 edition, a special issue focused on “Where is the Anti-Choice Movement Headed?“, was quite interesting.