Two researchers with “divergent views regarding the morality of abortion” have published a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics concluding that unborn human beings likely are able to feel pain at an earlier point than previous research has suggested. The authors state that they “came together to write this paper through a shared sense that the neuroscientific data, especially more recent data, could not support a categorical rejection of fetal pain.”

Some neuroscience reports have suggested that “the cortex and intact thalamocortical tracts are necessary for pain experience,” and because both have been found to become functional in fetuses at about 24 weeks’ gestation, previous researchers have stated that fetal pain can only occur during the last three months of pregnancy. But this new report suggests otherwise.

“More recent evidence calling into question the necessity of the cortex for pain and demonstrating functional thalamic connectivity into the subplate is used to argue that the neuroscience cannot definitively rule out fetal pain before 24 weeks,” Stuart W. G. Derbyshire and John C. Bockmann write. They note that discussions of a fetus’s capacity for pain, regardless of his or her capacity for self-reflection, is morally significant and relevant to policy debates about limiting abortion.

“One of us believes that abortion is necessary for women’s health and autonomy, while the other believes that abortion violates the ethical principle of non-maleficence and ought to be restricted and discouraged,” they write. “Regardless of our stark differences on this question, we both believe that our moral views on abortion should not interfere with discussion of whether fetal pain is possible and whether the science of fetal development can rule out the possibility of fetal pain.”

Though the authors fundamentally disagree on the correct ethical approach to abortion in light of their conclusion — because one “essentially believes that abortion is inherently violent” and the other believes abortion to be justifiable — both “agree that it is reasonable to consider some form of fetal analgesia during later abortions.”

Full story at National Review.