In neonatal nurseries across the land, tiny premature babies, born as early as 21 weeks after fertilization, are given the most careful medical attention. Those born at 22-23 weeks and later now have a good chance of surviving long term. It has been recognized for decades that these babies experience pain, and modern medical practice tries to minimize this to the extent possible.

Yet, every year, many thousands of unborn babies at the same stages of development are subjected to gross traumas, in abortions. In the commonly used D&E method, arms and legs are twisted off by brute force, while the baby is still alive. In the partial-birth abortion method, the premature infant is mostly delivered alive, feet first, before the skull is punctured with a sharp instrument.

Under the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (H.R. 6099), sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a woman who seeks an abortion after 20 weeks gestational age must be offered a brochure to be prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services, advising her of the evidence that her unborn child may experience pain during the abortion. She must also be advised that she has the right to request the administration of a drug to the baby to reduce such pain.

Leading experts in the field, such as Prof. Kanwaljeet Anand, a pediatric pain expert at the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Sonja Gupta, founder of the American Pain Association, have written that there is now ample scientific evidence that the human fetus can experience great pain by this stage of development. For example, Prof. Anand wrote, "It is my opinion that the human fetus possesses the ability to experience pain from 20 weeks of gestation, if not earlier, and the pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children." National Right to Life has posted a set of links to such documentation on this issue, here.

Opponents of the bill often refer to a 2005 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in which the authors argued that there is not good evidence that a human fetus can experience pain until well into the seventh month. This article actually became an embarrassment for JAMA when it was revealed that the lead author was a medical student previously employed as a lawyer for NARAL, while one of the coauthors was a pro-abortion activist who performs about 600 late abortions annually. The paper also was criticized by experts such as Prof. Anand, who said it would "inflame a lot of scientists who are ... far more knowledgeable in this area than the authors appear to be." Dr. Gupta criticized its presumption that the fetus will not feel pain until the brain is fully developed at around 29 weeks, writing, "There is no evidence that a fully developed cortex circuitry is required to feel pain. In contrast, we do have evidence from the neonatal experience that this presumption is wrong."

The truth hurts. But not as much as having one's limbs pulled off.