finds and declares the following:
Pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout the unborn child's
entire body and nerves link these receptors to the brain's thalamus
and subcortical plate by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.
By 8 weeks after fertilization, the unborn child reacts to touch. After
20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as
painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling.
In the unborn child, application of such painful stimuli is associated
with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress
Subjection to such painful stimuli is associated with long-term harmful
neurodevelopmental effects, such as altered pain sensitivity and,
possibly, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities later in
For the purposes of surgery on unborn children, fetal anesthesia is
routinely administered and is associated with a decrease in stress
hormones compared to their level when painful stimuli are applied
without such anesthesia. In the United States, surgery of this type is
being performed by 20 weeks after fertilization and earlier in
specialized units affiliated with children's hospitals.
The position, asserted by some physicians, that the unborn child is
incapable of experiencing pain until a point later in pregnancy than 20
weeks after fertilization predominately rests on the assumption that the
ability to experience pain depends on the cerebral cortex and requires
nerve connections between the thalamus and the cortex. However, recent
medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong
evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary
to experience pain.
Substantial evidence indicates that children born missing the bulk of
the cerebral cortex, those with hydranencephaly, nevertheless experience
In adult humans and in animals, stimulation or ablation of the cerebral
cortex does not alter pain perception, while stimulation or ablation of
the thalamus does.
Substantial evidence indicates that structures used for pain processing
in early development differ from those of adults, using different neural
elements available at specific times during development, such as the
subcortical plate, to fulfill the role of pain processing.
The position, asserted by some commentators, that the unborn child
remains in a coma-like sleep state that precludes the unborn child
experiencing pain is inconsistent with the documented reaction of unborn
children to painful stimuli and with the experience of fetal surgeons
who have found it necessary to sedate the unborn child with anesthesia
to prevent the unborn child from engaging in vigorous movement in
reaction to invasive surgery.
Consequently, there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child
is capable of experiencing pain at least by 20 weeks after
fertilization, if not earlier.
It is the purpose of the Congress to assert a compelling governmental
interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at
which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of
The compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn
children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates
that they are capable of feeling pain is intended to be separate from
and independent of the compelling governmental interest in protecting
the lives of unborn children from the stage of viability, and neither
governmental interest is intended to replace the other.
the full text of the bill here.