Preborn Babies Feel Pain

In the not too distant past, physicians and scientists did not believe that newborn children could feel pain.

Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty years ago, when babies required surgery, the standard of care included a drug administered to the child to temporarily paralyze his tiny body during the operation. Though the child was immobilized, he was not anesthetized from pain.

All of that changed when Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, as a medical resident, noticed that all of his little patients would return from surgery looking wan and anxious. Their vital signs would be weak, and the NICU team would consequently spend considerable time stabilizing these little patients. Dr. Anand began to reconsider the routines in the operating room.

He eventually learned that babies were feeling so much pain during surgery that the physiological responses threatened their lives. After conducting clinical trials, he was able to demonstrate that when infants underwent surgery with little to no anesthesia, their stress hormones escalated to a dangerous level, causing a myriad of postoperative complications. The stress led to the death of many babies.

Fortuitously, Dr. Anand also discovered that when anesthesia was administered, the stress hormone levels of the babies were comparatively lower than with no anesthesia, and that these babies were more likely to survive after surgery. Due to this important evidence, neonatal doctors now take all precautions to minimize pain for their newborn patients, and such precautions are now the standard of care for babies who undergo surgery in utero.

In recent decades, babies have been born prematurely at 21, 22, 23 weeks, and they survive. Thirty years ago, survival after such an early birth was unlikely, if ever. With advancements in maternal/fetal medicine and even corrective surgery in utero, anesthesia is now the standard of care for unborn patients. To not do so would be regarded as inhumane.

And yet, abortion advocates challenge the myriad scientific findings on the subject of preborn children feeling pain. Abortion advocates mockingly suggested that if the pain that the baby experiences during abortion is so worrisome then the child should be anesthetized before the torturous dismemberment. These same folks claim that the child is not capable of the emotional response to pain, that he's not learned the behavioral reaction to pain and discomfort so the preborn child feels a sensation but necessarily pain. And yet he winces from the instruments inserted to take his life.

He is emotional or sensitive enough to draw back from instruments that he clearly perceives as foreign to his little habitat, not to mention hostile. So hostile that nine states thus far have enacted measures to ban abortion at twenty weeks, the point at which these states have declared an interest in protecting the lives of these preborn children who can feel pain. (We pray that Texas is the tenth!)

Abortion advocates offer their version of a compromise: "Instead of banning late abortions, mandate anesthesia for these about-to-be-killed babies." In other words, "Kill the child more mercifully, but in no way, limit or restrict or even monitor what happens behind the closed, barred doors of our clinics." The goal must always be to stop the abortion, not make the procedure less painful-for mother or child.

Abortion is not medicine. Abortion is not therapeutic for the mother and certainly not for the child. Abortion can cause decades of pain, heartache and mental anguish. ALL the pain of abortion should be stopped, but not by anesthesia, rather through legal and peaceful outreach, activism, ministry, and most of all through prayerful means.

Elizabeth Graham is the state director of Texas Right to Life.

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