Abortion, Again: Do Babies Feel Pain?

Nebraska heats this topic up again. Embarrassed about being the late-term abortion capital of the United States, Nebraska changed the law:

Can an unborn child feel pain?

That question will dominate the abortion debate in America for the next several years thanks to Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska. Last week, Heineman signed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law, banning abortions in Nebraska at and after 20 weeks based on growing scientific evidence that an unborn child at that age can feel pain.

The legislation was enacted as a defensive measure. After the murder of late-term abortionist George Tiller, a physician named LeRoy Carhart declared his intention to carry on Tiller’s work at his Bellevue, Neb., clinic. State legislators did not want Nebraska to become the country’s late-term abortion capital — so they voted 44-5 to stop him.

The new law will probably spark a Supreme Court showdown, because it directly challenges one of the key tenets of Roe v. Wade — that “viability” (the point at which an unborn child can survive outside the womb, generally held to be at 22 to 24 weeks) is the threshold at which states can ban abortion. In defending the law, Nebraska will ask the high court to take into account scientific research since Roe and push the legal threshold back further.

I have written about this before, from a very personal place. My sons were born at 24 weeks, could feel pain, and felt pain more than the doctors and nurses wanted to admit. Not long after my son left the NICU, the hospital changed a policy on heel sticks (given repeatedly and daily without anesthesia) because they were so painful to the child.

This was a “duh” decision to me: I saw my sons silently scream and writhe to get away (they were intubated) every day during the procedure. Of course they felt pain. Only a moron couldn’t see that self-evident fact.

Do babies feel pain en utero? Yes. For years, doctors have noted that babies avoid ultrasound. No one quite knows why, but it’s suspected that the ultrasound waves are at the very least, uncomfortable to them. So, ultrasounds, while performed routinely, are carefully meted out by the best professionals, because they do know that ultrasounds stunt growth and interfere in other ways. If the baby avoids it, there must be a reason.

My thought is that unborn babies are more, not less, sensitive to pain. It just makes sense. Their nervous systems are raw and unrefined. They live in a fluid-filled cushion bubble for heaven’s sake. I figure it’s because the insulation deadens the sensations–the sound, touch, sight, etc.–needfully. The experiences would be too intense otherwise.

The fact is, it makes sense that these tiny humans feel acutely. And anyone who has seen a tiny baby, with a beating heart, cannot fathom that they don’t feel pain. It is an exercise in denial to haughtily imagine that they are little lumps of protoplasm feeling, learning, expressing nothing.

It is inconvenient to imagine a baby as a mini-human. If the baby is a mini-human, the baby has civil rights and should be protected.

As the science gets more refined, I expect that people are going to be horrified at what has happened to unborn children. Or, they’ll sink deeper into their denial–no one wants to perceive himself as a murderer, little less a pain-inflicting murderer.

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