I actually believe that there aren't enough abortions
-- John Parsons, a consultant gynaecologist
Recently the UK's House of Commons select committee on science and technology concluded (amongst other findings) that there is no reason to lower the current 24-week limit for abortions. Now it appears that this cross-party committee was relying on the findings of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which has recently been accused of ignoring data supporting a lowering of the limit. So what evidence is this then? Apparently Professor Stuart Campbell and Dr KJ Anand have both been pioneering research into pre-natal life.
Campbell has produced new 4D imaging which "has produced vivid pictures of a 12 week-old foetus 'walking' in the womb." However it appears many Gynaecologists have dismissed these images, saying that although more detailed than what was available previously, they haven't brought anything new to the table. ("The RCN’s view is that 3D and 4D imaging only serves to reveal what is already known, but with greater clarity.")
Dr Anand, it appears, has established (through an as unyet unpublished paper?) that a foetus can experience physiological stress similar to and consistent with what we understand to be pain from around 20 weeks gestation.
My first comment on this complex issue is this: what is the big deal about feeling pain? If an regular adult was anesthetized so that she could not feel pain, would it be ethical to terminate them? As important as pain is, surely the debate needs to move beyond this to looking at defining sentience and human life.
BTW, for sources for unsubstantiated quotes, check out Ministry of Truth (*), which appears to be a pro-choice blog (can anyone correct me?). BTW for the avoidance of doubt, I cannot endorse the opinions and views presented on the Ministry of Truth blog.
Update: Ruth Gledhill (Times religion blogger) has a good summary on recent events concerning this.
Update 2: Channel 4 has covered this issue recently with their Dispatches programme.