What does a preborn child feel during an abortion?

Anatomy of Pain

There are three well established factors that, taken together, provide overwhelming evidence of pain. [1]

  • Anatomical/ Neural Development
  • Behavioral Responses
  • Physiological Responses (the “Fetal Stress Response”)

18 Days Brain

The brain begins to take shape only 18 days after fertilization. By 20 days, the brain has al­ready differentiated into forebrain, midbrain, and hind brain, and the spinal cord has started to grow. [2]

5 Weeks Pain Receptors

Four or five weeks after fertilization, pain receptors appear around the mouth, followed by nerve fibers, which carry stimuli to the brain. By 18 weeks, pain receptors have appeared throughout the body. Around week 6, the fetus first responds to touch. [3] [4]

6 Weeks Cortex

In weeks 6-18, the cerebral cortex develops. By 18 weeks the cortex has a full complement of neurons. In adults, the cortex has been recognized as the center of pain consciousness. [5]

8 Weeks Thalamus

During weeks 8-16, the thalamus develops, functioning as the main relay center in the brain for sensory impulses going from the spinal cord to the cortex. [6] Movement of the fetus in response to external stimuli occurs at this early stage as well. [7]

14-18 Weeks Nerve Tracts

In week 18, nerve tracts connecting the spinal cord and the thalamus are established, and nerves from the thalamus first contact the cortex in week 20. Nerve fibers not routed through the thalamus have already reached the cortex by 14 weeks. [8] [9]

18 Weeks Stress Hormones

As early as 18 weeks, independent stress hormones are released by a fetus injected by a needle, just as they are when adults feel pain. Hormone levels in those babies decrease as pain-relievers are supplied. [10] Painful stimuli also yield vigorous movements and breathing efforts. [11]

Before 18 Weeks?

Even before nerve tract s are fully established, the fetus may feel pain; studies show anencephalic infants, whose cortex is severely reduced if not alto­gether missing, may experience pain as long as other neurological structures are functioning. [12]

20 Weeks All Parts in Place

With pain receptors, spinal cord, nerve tracts, thalamus, and cortex in place, all anatomical links needed for pain transmission to the brain, for feeling pain, are present.


[1] R Gupta, et. al. Fetal surgery and anaesthetic implications, Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care & Pain. 2008 8(2):71-75.

[2] Blackburn, ST. Maternal, Fetal, and Neonatal Physiology. 2nd ed (2003).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Vanhatalo, S & van Nieuwenhuizen, O. “Fetal Pain?” Brain and Develop­ment. 22 (2000).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Blackburn, ST. Maternal, Fetal, and Neonatal Physiology. 2nd ed (2003).

[7] R Gupta, et. al. Fetal surgery and anaesthetic implications, Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care & Pain. 2008 8(2):71-75.

[8] Vanhatalo, S & van Nieuwenhuizen, O. “Fetal Pain?” Brain and Development. 22 (2000).

[9] “Expert Report of Kanwaljeet S. Anand, MBBS, D.Phil.” Northern District of the US District Court in California. 15 Jan 2004.

[10] Giannakoulopoulos, X., Sepelveda, W., Kourtis, P., Glover, V.,& Fisk, N. (1994). Fetal plasma cortisol and B-endorphin response to intrauterine needling. Lancet, 77-81.

[11] Boris P, Cox PBW, Gogarten W, Strumper D, Marcus MAE. Fetal Surgery, anaesthesiological considerations. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol 2004; 39: 375-80.

[12] Van Assche, FA. “Anencephalics as Organ Donors.” Am J Obstet Gyn 163 (1990).

Source: – 2012


Fetal Development

Diary of a pre-born baby: the amazing process of a baby’s development:
Day 1: Fertilization:  All my human chromosomes are present; I am a unique human life beginning!
Weeks 1-2:  The DNA in my 46 chromosomes of my one cell contains my individual sex, eye color, shoe size, brain capacity and other physical traits. Before the second week is over, my rapidly developing and multiplying cells give rise to the brain, nervous system, skin, digestive system, muscles, bones and circulatory system.
Week 3:  My heart begins to beat with my own blood, (often a different blood type than my mother’s).  I am developing rapidly at this time with the formation of the umbilical cord transporting oxygen and nutrients absorbed from my mother’s blood by the placenta.

  • Baby consists of several hundred cells
  • Amniotic fluid is collecting around the baby
Week 4:  Size of a poppy seed
Week 5:  My baby eyes, legs, and hands begin to develop.

  • Size of a sesame seed
  • Growing at a furious pace
  • Her tiny heart begins to divide into chambers and beat and pump blood
Week 6:  My brain waves are detectable and can be
scientifically measured; mouth, lips present; fingers forming.  I begin my first movements.
7 weeks
7 weeks

Week 7:  My eyelids, toes form; my nose is distinct; I am kicking and swimming.

  • Your baby has doubled in size since last week and measure half an inch long, about the side of a blueberry
  • Hands and feet are emerging from the developing arms and legs
  • Eyelids and toe form
  • Baby kicking and swimming
Week 8:  Every organ is in place; my bones; fingerprints begin to form.  I can swallow amniotic fluid and can be observed hiccupping.  Taste and teeth buds are beginning to form.

  • Your baby is the size of a kidney bean
  • Webbed fingers and toes are poking out from your baby’s hands and feet
  • Primitive neural pathways are forming in your baby’s brain
  • She is moving, but is still too small for you to feel it
  • Every organ is in place
9 weeks
9 weeks

Weeks 9 and 10:  Teeth continue to form, fingernails develop; my baby head can turn, and sometimes frown.

  • Your baby is the size of a grape and weights just a fraction of an ounce
  • Your baby’s heart is now divided into four chambers
  • Your baby’s teeth start to form
  • Your baby’s eyes are fully formed but her eyelids are fused shut and won’t open until 27 weeks
Week 10:

  • Your baby is the size of a kumquat – a little over an inch or so
  • Your baby is swallowing fluid
  • Kicking up a storm
  • Liver is now making red blood cells
  • Finger nails are forming
  • Peach-fuzz hair is starting to grow
Week 11:  I can grasp objects placed in hand; the kidneys begin to form urine and I can mimic the movements of breathing. From this point on, all my body systems are in place and active.

  • Size of a fig (1 ½ inches long)
  • Tooth buds are starting to appear under her gums
  • Bones begin to harden
  • Baby can grasp objects place in her hand
Week 12:  I have reached my peak frequency of movement and rarely pause for more than five minutes.  My sex can be visually identified and my face begins to display distinctive characteristics resembling my family.

  • Size of a lime (just over 2 inches long) – weighs half an ounce
  • Your baby’s reflexes begin to develop
  • Her kidneys will being excreting urine into his bladder
Week 13:

  • Size of a pea pod (almost 3 inches long) and weighs nearly an ounce
  • Fingerprints have formed
  • Veins and organs are clearly visible through her still-thin skin
  • If you are having a girl, she now has more than 2 million eggs in her ovaries
Week 14:  My baby heart is pumping several quarts of blood through my body every day.  The smallest details are now taking shape.  For a couple of weeks now, all the body parts required to experience pain, including all the nerves, spinal cord and thalamus are present.

  • Size of a lemon (3 ½ inches long) – weighs 1 ½ ounces
  • You baby can now squint, frown, grimace, pee and possibly suck her thumb
Week 15:

  • Size of an apple (4 inches long) – weighs 2 ½ ounces
  • She can move all her joints and limbs
  • Air sacs in lungs are beginning to develop
  • She can sense light even though her eyelids are fused shut
  • Forming taste buds
  • May be able to find out if your baby is a girl or a boy
Week 16:  I am visibly turning, kicking, doing somersaults, making fine finger movements, wiggling my toes and making a fist.

  • Size of an avocado (4 ½ inches long) – weighs 3 ½ ounces
  • Started growing toenails
  • Heart is pumping about 25 quarts of blood each day
Week 17:  I can have dream (REM) sleep.

  • Size of a turnip (5 inches long) – weighs 5 ounces
  • Skeleton is changing from soft cartilage to bone
  • Her sweat glands are starting to develop
  • Your baby can dream (have REM sleep)
Week 18:

  • Size of a bell pepper (5 ½ inches long) – weighs almost 7 ounces
  • Blood vessels are visible through her thin skin
  • If you’re having a girl, her uterus and fallopian tubes are formed and in place
  • If you’re having a boy, his genitals are noticeable now
Week 19:

  • Size of a heirloom tomato (6 inches long) – weighs about 8 ½ ounces
  • Your baby’s sensory development: the brain is dividing into areas for smell, taste, hearing, vision and touch, which means that she may be able to hear your voice now
Week 20: I can hear my mother’s voice and feel soothed; I respond to a number of outside stimuli including pats on my mother’s abdomen, music, sudden noises, etc.  It is only a matter of time now, with no new parts to form or new body systems to develop!  I am eager to be born!Legally, there is no reason this child can’t be aborted at this stage, if the mother finds the child inconvenient, expensive, or simply a bother – this is reason enough to allow her to end her baby’s life.  The question of viability or when the baby is able to survive outside the mother is constantly changing. Science has made considerable progress in saving babies anywhere from 19-23+ weeks after fertilization.

  • Size of a banana (10 inches) – weighs 10 ½ ounces
  • Swallowing more – good practice for her digestive system
  • With pain receptors, spinal cord, nerve tracts, thalamus & cortex in place, the baby can feel pain
21 weeks
21 weeks

Week 21:

  • Size of a carrot (10 ½ inches) – weighs ¾ pound
  • Kicking increases
  • You may also discover a pattern to her activity as you get to know her better
  • Eyebrows and lids are present now
  • If you’re having a girl, her vagina has begun to form
Week 22:

  • Size of a spaghetti squash (11 inches) – weighs almost 1 pound
  • Her eyes have formed but her irises still lack pigment
  • Fine hair (lanugo) covers her body
  • Her pancreas is developing
Week 23:

  • Size of a large mango (11 inches long) – weighs just over a pound
  • Your baby can feel you dance
  • You may be able to see her squirm in your belly
  • Loud noises, like your dog barking or a vacuum cleaner, become familiar to your baby and probably won’t bother her after she is born
Week 24:

  • Size of an ear of corn (almost a foot long) – weighs 1 1/3 pounds
  • Lungs are developing the “branches” of the respiratory system
Week 25:

  • Size of a rutabaga (13 ½ inches) – weighs 1 ½ pounds
  • Her baby fat begins to develop
  • Growing more hair and, if you could see it, you might be able to tell its color and texture
Week 26:

  • Size of a scallion (14 inches) – weighs 1 2/3 pounds
  • She may now be able to hear your voice and others as you talk to each other
  • She’s inhaling and exhaling
  • If you are having a boy, his testicles should soon begin to descend into his scrotum – a trip that will take about 2 to 3 months
Week 27:

  • Size of a head of cauliflower (14 ½ inches long) – weighs almost 2 pounds
  • Sleeping and waking at regular intervals
  • Opening and closing her eyes
  • Brain is very active
  • While her lungs are still immature, they would be capable of functioning – with a lot of medical help – if she were to be born now
  • Baby hiccups
Week 28:

  • Size of a large eggplant (14.8 inches) – weighs 2 ¼ pounds
  • She can blink her eyes, which now have lashes
  • May be able to see the lights that filters in through the womb
  • Developing billions of neurons in her brain
Week 29:

  • Size of a butternut squash (15 inches) – weighs 2 ½ pounds
  • Baby’s bones are soaking up lots of calcium – about 250 milligrams of calcium are deposited in your baby’s hardening skeleton each day
  • Her muscles and lungs continue to mature
Week 30:

  • Size of a large cabbage (15.7 inches long) – weighs almost 3 pounds
  • Her eyesight continues to develop, though it is not very keen; even after she is born, she’ll keep of eyes closed for a good part of the day
Week 31:

  • Size of a coconut (16 inches long) – weighs about 3 1/3 pounds
  • Heading into a growth spurt
  • She can turn her head from side to side
  • She is probably moving a lot – a sign that she is active and healthy
Week 32:

  • Size of a large jicama (16.7 inches long) – weighs about 3 ¾ pounds
  • She’ll gain a third to half of her birth weight during the next 7 weeks
  • She now has toenails, fingernails & real hair
  • Skin is becoming soft and smooth
Week 33:

  • Size of a pineapple (17 inches) – weighs a little over 4 pounds
  • Bones in her skull aren’t fused together to make it easier for her to fit through the birth canal
  • Skeleton is hardening
Week 34:

  • Size of a cantaloupe (18 inches long) – weighs 4 ¾ pounds
  • Her central nervous system is maturing
  • Lungs are maturing
  • Her fat layers – which will help regulate her body temperature once she is born – are filling her out, making her rounder
Week 35:

  • Size of a honeydew melon (over 18 inches long) – weighs 5 ¼ pounds
  • She is running out of room, so you may feel kicking, but no more somersaults
  • Kidneys are fully developed now
  • Liver can process some waste products
Week 36:

  •  Size of a head of romaine lettuce (18 ½ inches long) – weighs almost 6 pounds
  •  Shedding most of the downy covering of hair
  • Most likely, your baby is already head-down, getting ready for her birth
Week 37:

  • Size of a bunch of Swiss chard (over 19 inches) – weighs 6 1/3 pounds
  • Many babies have hair at birth (from ½ inches to 1 ½ inches long)
  • Due date is very close now, but doctors don’t consider your baby “full term” until 39 weeks
Week 38:

  • Size of a leek (19 ½ inches long) – weights about 6.8 pounds
  • She has a firm grasp
  • Her organs have matured and are ready for life outside the womb
Week 39:

  • Size of a mini-watermelon (20 inches) – weighs a bit over 7 pounds
  • Continues to build a layer of fat to help control her body temperature after birth
  • Outer layers of her skin are sloughing off as new skin forms underneath
Week 40:

  • Size of a small pumpkin (about 20 inches long) – weighs about 7 ½ pounds
  • Skull bones are not yet fused, which allows them to overlap a bit if it’s a snug fit though the birth canal during labor