A new Current Biology study finds a fetus does not feel pain until 35 to 37 weeks of gestation — yet another piece of evidence that debunks the science behind a set of laws that have made their way through state legislatures that limit access to abortions when the age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.
The findings could shed light on a point of contention in the abortion-rights debate and potentially affect clinical care for preterm infants.
Researchers used electroencephalography to compare preterm infants’ brain activity in response to a touch and a heel prick. Infants born at 28 to 35 weeks of development showed comparable brain activity for the touch and heel prick, but infants born at more than 35 weeks of gestation exhibited a greater response to the heel prick than the touch.
During its most recent legislative session, Florida was among a handful of states that considered one of these medically disputed “fetal pain” bills. Even though Florida eventually did not enact House Bill 321, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Indiana all passed bills this year that make such restrictions.
Harvard researchers also released a study this past May that shows found “fetal pain” bills were “neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound.”