Oregon Must Protect Unborn Babies Who Can Feel Pain

Ashley Sadler

Communications Director

Oregon has no laws protecting the unborn from abortion. In this state, abortions can be performed at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason, even when the unique human being in the womb can feel pain.

Oregon Right to Life has put forward SB:1536 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the 2024 legislative session, urging legislators to implement safeguards for vulnerable unborn humans who are capable of feeling pain.

Can a fetus really feel pain early in the pregnancy?

The precise gestational age at which human fetuses can feel pain has been a subject of strenuous debate.

Some researchers continue to argue that unborn human beings can’t feel pain before about 24 weeks gestation. However, more recent analysis of the available data and scientific literature indicates that they can feel pain at just 15 weeks after fertilization or even earlier, The Charlotte Lozier Institute has pointed out.

Board-certified neonatologist Dr. Robin Pierucci, M.D., said “[t]he idea that unborn babies don’t feel pain is rooted in a bygone era when newborns were actually operated on without anesthesia or pain relief.” 

Taking issue with the claim that a fetus can’t feel pain until about 24 weeks gestation, Dr. Pierucci said that’s an “outdated belief” that “abortion advocates and their political allies continue to cling to.” She noted that “an objective visit to a NICU easily proves otherwise.”

In their peer-reviewed comprehensive review published in the BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics in January, 2020, researchers stated that they “no longer view fetal pain (as a core, immediate, sensation) in a gestational window of 12–24 weeks as impossible based on the neuroscience.”

The article, co-authored by pro-choice professor Stuart WG Derbyshire (a former Planned Parenthood consultant), added a word of warning about ignoring the possibility that human fetuses can feel pain.

“We may doubt whether the fetus (or an animal) ever feels anything akin to pain, but acting as if we have certainty flirts with a moral recklessness that we are motivated to avoid,” the article stated.

Are abortions actually painful for the unborn human being? 

Pro-choice activists and abortion providers often try to assure pregnant women and the public that legal abortions are safe and humane.

Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

Abortion providers use powerful metal tools to dismember unborn human beings. Even though it’s become routine to provide anesthesia to wanted babies undergoing fetal surgery at 15 weeks and up, there is no such standard of care for those who are aborted.

It’s true that – partly due to laws aimed at protecting the unborn – it has become increasingly common to give a lethal injection to “induce fetal demise” before the fetus is surgically dismembered. Some abortion providers opt to do so for a variety of reasons, including to avoid the possible legal ramifications of killing a baby who exhibits “signs of life.” 

However, the practice is not standardized or required, and the lethal injections themselves are often very painful. One of the most commonly-used drugs, digoxin, induces death by causing a massive heart attack. The drug can also be dangerous for the mother.

Whether or not an abortion begins with a lethal injection, the most common procedure for a second-trimester abortion (at about 15 or 16 weeks gestation) is known as Dilation and Evacuation (D&E).

In D&E procedures, abortion providers use forceps to grab hold of the fetus and tear him or her apart, limb by limb. Their parts are then reassembled to ensure that the whole body has been removed, and another tool is used to scrape out the inside of the woman’s uterus to retrieve any remains.

Up to about 14 or 15 weeks gestation, abortions are commonly performed using Dilation and Curettage (D&C) procedures. In this case, a fetus is suctioned from the mother’s womb and either removed whole (if small enough) or “rapidly torn to pieces” as he or she is pulled through the hollow tube. As with D&E procedures, a tool is then used to scrape out the uterus for any remains.

Don’t most abortions happen very early in the pregnancy? How big of an issue is this?

Most abortions do occur earlier in the pregnancy, but many thousands of second-trimester fetuses are aborted nationwide every year.

According to the CDC, about 6.6% of legal abortions in the U.S., or roughly 41,000 total abortions, took place at 14 weeks gestation or later in 2021.

In Oregon, 872 abortions were carried out at 13 weeks gestation or later in 2022.

As awareness of fetal development and pain capability has increased nationwide, many states now limit abortions at 15 weeks or even earlier. 

However, Oregon is among a handful of states that allow abortion even up to the moment of birth. 

How could lawmakers protect pain-capable fetuses in Oregon?

Oregon’s SB 1536: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would: 

  • Require abortion providers to determine the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child prior to the abortion.
  • Prohibit any health care provider from performing an abortion when it has been determined that the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 15 weeks or older.
  • Allow exceptions in cases of medical emergency, rape, and incest.

This legislation would NOT:

  • Include criminal penalties for physicians who perform abortions after 15 weeks.
  • Allow criminal prosecution of a woman who has an abortion.

It’s clear we need common sense legislation to protect pain-capable unborn babies in Oregon — and we need it now. 

You can help by supporting your pro-life legislators who are working hard to establish these critical safeguards in Oregon and by staying informed about this important issue. 

Visit ortl.org/action to stay on top of pro-life Oregon legislation and connect with your lawmakers.

A Pro-Life Apologetics Note:

Determining whether or not unborn human beings can feel pain at early gestational ages is certainly important. However, it’s not the only factor in deciding whether they deserve legal protection from abortion. 

Even some born people with disabilities are unable to feel pain, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to life. As pro-life apologist Trent Horn has pointed out, a fetus’ right to life doesn’t come from what he or she can do, but what he or she is. From the moment of fertilization, an unborn human being is a unique, living individual with dignity, value, and a right to life!


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