Skip to content
Studies in Law and Medicine

Fetal Pain and Abortion: The Medical Evidence

Americans United for Life published “Studies in Law and Medicine” in the 1970s and 1980s, spotlighting issues pertaining to the human right to life across the bioethics spectrum. As Americans United for Life celebrates our 50th anniversary, we are making these issues available for the first time since their print publication.

Fetal Pain and Abortion: The Medical Evidence by Vincent J. Collins, M.D., Steven R. Zielinski, M.D., and Thomas J. Marzen, Esq.

This issue of “Studies in Law and Medicine” features a letter to President Ronald Reagan on February 13, 1984 and supporting medical evidence.  

The possibility that the human fetus feels pain introduces a new element into the moral discourse, and public policy debate, on abortion. One can describe the anatomical and physiological development of the unborn—catalogue the body parts as they come into existence, describe their functions, measure their size. Evidence of this sort might or might not convince one that the fetus is sufficiently similar to the child or adult to be reckoned of equivalent value, depending on the predilections of the evaluator. A conviction based on such information, however, depends largely on visual analogy or identification of common features and functions, rather than an identification with the feeling state of the fetus. Empathy, or a certain resonating with the sensitivities of the fetus may develop, but only by implication or inference.  

The medical evidence plainly points to the existence of pain sensations in the human fetus, at least from the onset of the second trimester of pregnancy, and perhaps during the last weeks of the first trimester. It indicates that at least three methods of abortion cause fetal pain. During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, approximately 13,500 abortions were performed in the United States by D & E, saline amino-infusion, or prostaglandin induction in 1980 alone. We cannot measure the sum agony of these human beings. We can only know that it was real, hope that it was mercifully brief, and grieve because the ideology that so arrogantly asserts abortion as a “right” has subverted simple human compassion to such a degree that these young human beings continue to die with little of no concern for their pain.