The Logic is Painfully Clear – A Look at Fetal Pain

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, CLR National Director


In the August 24, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association researchers concluded that an unborn child’s pain is not realized until 29 or 30 weeks into the pregnancy. Therefore, pain relief does not need to be provided for the unborn child during abortion.

The paper is controversial because the authors are steeped in the abortion industry. One author is an abortion clinic director, and another author once worked for NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) Pro-Choice America. So, whether or not their findings are accurate, the authors tainted the study with their obvious bias.

My concern, however, is deeper. As we all know, abortion is permitted throughout the nine months, or 39 weeks, of a pregnancy. The pro-life community has argued that pain can be felt by an unborn child as early as 13 weeks into the pregnancy.

Regardless of who ultimately is correct in this debate there is a logic that sooner or later has to cause alarm in all Americans. Even under the most conservative of estimates we live in a nation that is willing to abort a child who would feel the pain of the procedure as it occurs. Does anyone see “universal risk” painted all over this?

Realization of pain is one of those timeless indicators of life. Admittedly, certain brain injuries may remove the sensation of pain for some people who are otherwise still considered alive. As a general rule, however, a reaction to pain indicates the existence of life.

Some 30 to 40 years ago advocates of legalized abortion argued that the unborn child was only a blob of tissue or a part of a woman’s body. They vigorously denied any independent consciousness on the part of the unborn child as they sought to legalize the killing of unborn children. That is so “yesterday” in arguments.

Today there is an acceptance on all sides of the issue that at some point an individual sense of awareness is present in an unborn child. All parties agree that at some point genuine pain can be experienced. Isn’t that enough to at least move back the time period when abortion is accepted? With this logic shouldn’t all partial-birth and late-term abortions be eliminated out of respect for the unborn child who feels pain? Apparently not, because advocates are not using this same logic.

The argument for abortion is no longer whether the unborn child is human or alive. In fact, some prominent abortion rights supporters readily admit that in an abortion a child dies (i.e., Naomi Wolf, October 16, 1995, The New Republic “Our Bodies, Our Souls”). Instead, they argue that killing an unborn child is sad but necessary to preserve the mother’s autonomy. Regardless of the humanity of an unborn child, it is of subordinate interest to the autonomous right-to-privacy and the mother’s right to choose.

This is a different kind of logic that allows abortion even when pain might be experienced by the aborted child. It is a logic that even allows decisions for the deaths of others, regardless life or personhood, at any time during life. This logic reflects a refined eugenics in which the healthy are favored over the ailing, the intelligent over the mentally retarded, the attractive over the ugly, the seen over the unseen, and the desired over the unwanted.

This is the abortion philosophy of our time. How foolish of us not to see the logic earlier when advocates of abortion often spoke the “safe, legal, and rare” abortion mantra. Why rare? It is because the logic formed at that time left the door open for the killing, albeit the killing of human beings. By arguing for “safe, legal and rare” abortions society was being subtly conditioned to sympathize with the plight of a woman who is so desperate that even her unborn child must die.

This same logic is now also being used with regard to the disabled and the elderly. No longer are we talking about the intrinsic value of human life regardless of its quality. No longer are we talking about any nationalistic right to life. Rather, the rhetoric which argues for quality lives, lives that are wanted, lives that are valued, and lives that can contribute to society, has risen to the top.

It is this logic that argues for the termination of life at any stage (before or after birth), so long as we are humane about it. If the unborn child feels pain in an abortion, then we should provide pain medication so that death comes painlessly. Sound familiar? You have already heard this reasoning in regard to the deaths of the disabled and elderly who have poor qualities of life.

How do you suppose you keep someone comfortable when you wish to cause death by withholding feeding? You medicate them to deaden the discomfort. Such is what often is happening today when decisions are made to stop feeding someone because their quality of life is diminished. The case of Terri Schiavo is a recent public example but there are other private examples.

How do you suppose you help someone end their life painlessly and yet cleanly? You provide them with prescriptions that bring about a deep sleep followed by death. It is clean and effective. And, in this country, it is legal to do so in the state of Oregon.

All of this is predicated on a logic that measures life not by its presence but by its quality and desirability. It removes God from the equation as the Author and Terminator of human life (Deuteronomy 32:39). It puts forward a qualitative approach to valuing human life that is clearly rejected in Scripture (Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15; Acts 10:34; James 2:1). It fosters a mentality of eliminating burdens rather than carrying burdens. This, too, is contrary to God’s Word (Galatians 6:2; 1 John 3:16ff).

To counter this logic we must introduce a culture of concern, care, and love. This new culture is one of personal sacrifice for the sake of others and the common good. It means venerating the aging (Leviticus 19:32), accommodating and incorporating the disabled (2 Samuel 9:6-13), and sacrificing for the ailing (Matthew 25:31ff; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8).

In this new culture of concern and care we need to so permeate society with a reflection of God’s love in Jesus that acts contrary to this love are not favored or accepted. Women would not be praised for their “courageous” decision to abort their unborn child. Families should not be sympathized for having to make the tough decision to terminate a grandfather’s life which has lost quality.

In this new culture everyone steps forward, not to condemn or to fault, but to help and comfort. And in each crisis God opens a door to talk about His providence and His love and His sacrifice. Every crisis becomes a bridge for us to talk about the devastation of sin and the rescue through Christ. Christian compassion is not just the result of salvation through Christ, it becomes the setting to share that salvation for others.

How do we do this? Individually and corporately. Individually we do this when we demonstrate our own faith in action by the love we show members of our family and our community. When we are ready to carry burdens, share responsibility, and live with the consequences of such charity we show our love for God.

Corporately it means to strongly consider what we can do as congregations. Showing Christian concern and sacrifice is not the central mission of the congregation, but it is the result of its mission. When the message of sin and grace is central to the work of a congregation, then it is compelled to show such love to others. Look for ways that your congregation can provide bridges into the community to show love and to share salvation.

What if your congregation just can’t get it together? For many reasons congregations have trouble organizing for Christian charity. Then look elsewhere. Look at the wide variety of secular charity agencies in your community and get involved. In so doing doors will open, bridges will form, and your love will provide you an opportunity to talk of God’s love.

The logic is clear on where our society is heading. We can wring our hands. We can complain. We can push legislators to pass laws to protect human life. But we need to do much more. We need to change the culture of life in our society and if the Christian community doesn’t do it, who will? Who has the motivation? It is up to us, and time is running out. So act quickly! If you need help and ideas contact the national office of Christian Life Resources and let’s see what we can do together.


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