"It is therefore declared to be the policy of the United States that the slaughtering of livestock and the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter shall be carried out only by humane methods."
Those words come from the "Humane Methods of Slaughter Act," a law that expresses our concern for the pain experienced by animals, but that more fundamentally expresses a dimension of our own humanity. In Australia, the national Health and Medical Research Council requires painkillers to be used on the fetuses of animals!
So what about human fetuses?
On April 6, 2004, the following testimony was given in U.S. District Court (District of Nebraska) by Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand before Judge Richard G. Kopf in the case of Leroy Carhart, M.D., et. al. v. Ashcroft
"Q. So, Doctor, do you have an opinion as to whether the partial-birth abortion procedure causes pain to the fetus?
A. If the fetus is beyond 20 weeks of gestation, I would assume that there will be pain caused to the fetus. And I believe it will be severe and excruciating pain caused to the fetus.
Q. What do you mean by severe and excruciating pain?
A. You see, the threshold for pain is very low. The fetus is very likely extremely sensitive to pain during the gestation of 20 to 30 weeks. And so the procedures associated with the partial-birth abortion that I just described would be likely to cause severe pain, right from the time the fetus is being manipulated and being handled to the time that the incision is made, and the brain or the contents, intracranial contents, are sucked out."
In 1994, an article in the prestigious British medical journal, the Lancet, revealed hormonal stress reactions in the fetus. The article concluded with the recommendation that painkillers be used when surgery is done on the fetus. The authors wrote, "This applies not just to diagnostic and therapeutic procedures on the fetus, but possibly also to termination of pregnancy, especially by surgical techniques involving dismemberment." In 1991, scientific advisors to the Federal Medical Council in Germany had made a similar recommendation.
In August 2001, Great Britain's Medical Research Council concluded that pain perception may be as early as 20 weeks; other studies place it as early as 10 weeks.
It should be noted that each year in the United States alone, over 18,000 abortions take place at 21 or more weeks of pregnancy.
The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act has now been introduced in Congress, to inform women having abortions at 20 weeks or more that their baby may feel pain. The legislation deserves our support. It would require that the mother be given the option to provide painkillers to her baby. This is not to justify abortion, but will certainly make many think twice about it.
Many abortion supporters will, of course, continue to deny reality. As Bertrand Russell wrote, "A fisherman once told me that fish have neither sense nor sensation, but how he knew this, he could not tell me."