“Wanted: accuracy in the abortion debate” was the title of Margaret Wente’s November 19 column in the Globe and Mail. The article was written in answer to an earlier one by Michael Coren (Globe and Mail, November 9) which Ms. Wente said “was riddled with errors.”

In an attempt to discredit his argument, she made a number of claims: it is “medical nonsense” to say that a 12-week-old fetus struggles in pain; that this “nonsense” was propagated by the film The Silent Scream; that the film had been discredited by “independent experts;” that the experts “point out that a fetus of this age has virtually no central nervous system or brain;” that neural connections begin to form around 20 weeks.

On the principle that what applies to the gander applies to the goose, the question arises, how accurate is Ms. Wente’s information?

Medical Nonsense?

The first credit for forcing the issue of fetal pain out into the open in North America, belongs to President Ronald Reagan. In an address at a convention of religious broadcasters in Washington, D.C. (January 30, 1984) the President said, “When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.”

Pro-abortionists wee outraged. Dr. Ervine Nichols, spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG (an organization noted for its support of abortion) said, “We are unaware of any evidence of any kind that would substantiate a claim that pain is perceived by a fetus.”

Immediately he was denounced by experts in fetology. Eventually, Dr. Nichols admitted to the Washington Times he was not a fetal surgeon and lacked both “expertise” and “intimate knowledge” of this field.

President Reagan was, in fact, only stating what fetologists around the world had been saying for many years. They knew that the fetus feels pain, and reacts violently to painful stimuli. Within days, 26 leading experts came to the defence of the President’s statement. An open letter to President Reagan, dated February 13, 1984, stated that modern advances in knowledge and technology (“real time ultrasonography, fetoscopy, study of the fetal EKG – electrocardiogram and fetal EEG – electroencephalogram”) have proved beyond any scientific doubt that the preborn child can feel pain.

The letter went further. It stated that the pre-born child is capable of feeling pain by twelve weeks.

“We state categorically that no finding of modern fetology invalidates the remarkable conclusion drawn after a lifetime of research by the late Professor Arnold Gesell of Yale University. In The Embryology of Behaviour, The Beginnings of the Human Mind, Dr. Gesell wrote, ‘…and so by the close of the first trimester the fetus is a sentient, moving being.”

The letter ended, “Mr. President, in drawing attention to the capability of the human fetus to feel pain, you stand on firmly established ground.”

The letter was signed by 26 physicians, professors of maternal and fetal medicine, obstetrics and gynecologist, pediatrics, and anesthiology, from universities across the United States.

On March 6, 1984, President Reagan spoke again about fetal pain. This time the media kept silence.

The Silent Scream

At the same time, early 1984, Dr. Bernard Nathanson (the former “Abortion King,” but now a strong pro-life activist) decided to show what an abortion is like from the point of view of the baby, the victim. He obtained a videotape of an ultrasound imaging of an abortion on a 12-week preborn child with the intention of using it to illustrate his own talks and lectures.

By late December 1984, The Silent Scream was ready for release. The reaction from the pro-abortion media and abortionists, along with Planned Parenthood was predictable.

Unable to deny that an innocent child had been destroyed, they attacked both Dr. Nathanson and the film claiming that the ultrasound images were manipulated, that it was magnified and speeded up; that the fetus was older than 12 weeks; that the fetal model used by Dr. Nathanson to demonstrate how the instruments were used was larger than the fetus in the womb; that genuine brain waves do not occur until the third trimester; etc.

Ms. Wente claimed that the film had been discredited by independent experts. There were two main attacks, one on CBS Morning News, the other from Planned Parenthood, but whether critics were either experts or independent is a matter of opinion. CBS conceded that its five-member panel was proposed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. At least one member of the panel, Dr. Richard Berkowitz, had worked as an abortionist (actually as an employee of Dr. Nathanson in CRASH, at that time the largest abortuary in the world).

Planned Parenthood’s experts were no more neutral. Apart from its owning the largest chain of abortuaries in the USA, two of its six chosen experts, Drs. William Roahbaum and Ming-Ning Yen had also worked as abortionists at CRASH.

Evidence from the experts

Once again, the experts in fetology found it necessary to expose the fallacies of pro-abortionists, and to point to the rapid expansion of medical knowledge. This time they were joined by experts in diagnostic ultrasound. One such expert, of world eminence, was Dr. Ian Donald.

Ian Donald, M.D., C.B.C., D.Sc., F.R.C.O.G., F.R.C.S. (Glasgow), Hon. F.A.C.O.G., had led the world in the invention, development, and exploitation of diagnostic ultrasound, particularly in obstetrics, from 1955 on. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he again led the way in filming fetal activity. His film Jumping for Joy which showed a tiny pre-born baby bounding as though on a trampoline had enthralled the doctors when it was shown at a major medical conference. In an affidavit, in England, Dr. Donald said: “…I have now studied Dr. Nathanson’s video-tape film entitled The Silent Scream not less than four times and affirm that I am of the opinion that the fetal activities depicted by ultrasonic real-time scanning in this film are not faked nor the result of artifact intentional or otherwise.”

The critics who questioned the age of the fetus shown in the film were answered by many experts, one of whom was Dr. Mark Patry, a specialist in Ultrasound Consultation in Ottawa. Dr. Patry said: “On the ‘scale’ which is present on the outer edges of the scan image, there are calibration dots. Each dot is positioned every 10 mm. The fetal head at twelve weeks by computer projection (from regressive analysis) should measure 21mm. and at 12.3 weeks at 22mm….These statistics do apply to The Silent Scream.

“These methods of assessing the fetal age are accurate to within three to five days of error; therefore, as a sonographer, I can vouch for the accuracy of the claim that we are indeed dealing with a twelve-week fetus.”

Dr. E. Michael Linzey, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the University of California, in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine also stated: “The film, The Silent Scream, is an accurate representation of what takes place during a twelve-week abortion…the activity of the fetus is not exaggerated movement of the ultrasound transducer…In summary, I can state without equivocation that this film accurately represents a twelve-week fetus with all of its identifiable human features acting in a manner in which one would expect a fetus of that gestational age to act in response to an abortion which is being observed from the candid eye of the ultrasound machine.”

The Anatomical Structures Necessary to Pain Sensation

The third incredible statement made by Ms. Wente about The Silent Scream, is that “experts…point out that a fetus of this age has virtually no central nervous system or brain.” She adds: “Neural connections begin to form around 20 weeks.” Luckily for their scientific reputations, the “experts” remain anonymous, and their credentials, if any, are not mentioned.

There are three neurological structures needed for pain sensation: pain receptive nerve cells, neural pathways, and the thalamus.

Pain-receptive nerve cells , which are called nociceptors are present in the skin and throughout the body. They are sensitive to pressure, stress – as in cuts, breaks, crushing of tissue, etc. – heat and chemicals. Nociceptors react to pain stimuli by sending an electric impulse along the neural pathway to the spinal cord, and hen (usually) to the brain.

The spinal cord, and the brain together form the central nervous system. When a pain-associated electrical impulse from a nociceptor reaches the spinal cord, it is transferred to spinal-cord fibres and it travels up the cord pathway and into the thalamic part of the brain.

The thalamus lies above the spinal cord and brain stem and it is the neurological structure in the brain for pain sensation and response. The body’s attempt to escape from harmful stimuli (such as a hot pan of a sharp knife) by aversive action, is evidence that a pain impulse has reached the brain, which is where pain is sensed.

Pain impulses that reach the thalamus can be transmitted further into the cerebral cortex, which lies above the thalamus. Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth of the Harvard Medical School explains that the cortex, when fully developed, provides an additional function “to allow someone to make an intelligent decision about pain.” It is an accepted fact that a functioning cortex is not necessary for the sensation of pain. Dr. Matthews-Roth, on CBS Morning News (March 4, 1985) stressed that in a 12-week-old fetus “the connections are there from the skin to the spinal cord, and up to the thalamus…to say ‘I moved, I hurt.’”

The testimony of Professor Linzey of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine demolishes the arguments of Ms. Wente about the lack of a central nervous system, brain, and neural connections I a 12-week-old pre-born child. He testified in an affidavit concerning The Silent Scream: “At twelve weeks’ gestation the following organ systems are complete – every organ system. The only difference between the adult organ system and the fetal organ system is in the size and the function which are similar to the changes that take place between the neonatal period and the adult as well. More distinctly, the nervous system has the following – the three primary flexures of the brain are present, cerebral hemispheres are present and enlarging, the cerebral cortex has developed typical cells as early as eight weeks’ gestation. The spinal cord has attained its definitive internal structure and the brain by four weeks’ gestation, has attained its general normal structural features. Therefore, this brain is complete except for enlargement and some myelinization that needs to take place in the cord. Present in the peripheral nervous system are nociceptors which are able to pick up noxious stimuli in the fetus. Where all blood vessels travel, so travel nerves, therefore the nervous system is out to every area of the fetal body.”

Since 1985 there has been a flood of information from research in molecular biology and molecular neurology, as well as a result of new technologies, like advances in electroence photography, which improves detection of signals of brain activity. Some of the discoveries relate to fetal pain. In 1985 some thirty nerve hormones (neuropeptides) were discovered, and these function in pain transmission. One of these, substance “p” has been found in the human embryo at five weeks’ gestation.

Evidence given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the J.M. v. V.C. case in 1992 showed that at seven weeks – still in the embryo stage – the skin-pain receptors appear, and that they have been preceded by the nerve fibres of the neural pathways, and the nerve junctions (synapses) with the spinal cord. By twelve weeks, the thalamus, mid-brain, brain stem and cerebellar hemisphere are developed.

To Michael Coren, I would paraphrase the message that the real experts would say: “Mr. Coren, when you said: ‘I have been told by objective medical experts that an unborn child feels pain’ you stood on firmly established ground.”

And to Ms. Wente I would add what Professor Dan Robinson, of Georgetown University Medical School said to the pro-abortionists who attacked The Silent Scream.

“I think it’s also important to remember that our right to be spared dismemberment and death does not hinge on our capacity to feel pain. It attaches to a certain dignity that we assign to beings that are human and that are part of the community of human beings.”