Press Release

Half of NHS Trusts recognise existence of fetal pain during late term abortion, FOI investigation reveals

11 August 2023         Issued by: Christian Concern

After four decades of denial from the abortion industry, a Freedom of Information (FOI) investigation into the approach of NHS Trusts to fetal pain during late term abortions has revealed that half now recognise its existence.

Feticide involves the injection of potassium chloride to an unborn baby from late term into a pregnancy to bring about cardiac arrest. Published statistics reveal that over 1,300 are performed each year in the UK.

The BBC has previously reported on the use of potassium chloride for lethal injections saying: “Without proper sedation, this stage would be extremely painful. The feeling has been likened to ‘liquid fire’ entering veins and snaking towards the heart. If the inmate is not fully paralysed, their muscles will also spasm uncontrollably.”

The abortion industry has insisted, however, that fetal pain during the abortion process at any stage of a pregnancy is a ‘misnomer’ and has refused to take action to address it despite a growing bank of evidence.

In 2022, for example, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) buried a report that revealed that it no longer asserts that a fetus is in an unconscious state until birth and therefore cannot experience pain. For years the theory that feticide was painless for unborn babies was given to reassure and convince women in crisis pregnancies to go ahead with late term abortions.

In response to RCOG’s buried report, pro-life scientist, James Evans, has carried out an FOI investigation to shed further light on the issue. To date in 2023, 116 NHS Trusts have responded to FOI requests asking them:

‘Does your NHS Trust perform a feticide procedure?

‘And if your NHS Trust does perform feticides: Does your NHS Trust usually give or offer direct fetal “painkiller”/sedative as part of the feticide? What substance is used for the feticide itself? If the birthing person requests direct fetal painkiller/sedative, will direct fetal painkiller/sedative be considered and, if appropriate, administered?’

In response to the FOI requests, data reveals that:

Of the trusts who perform feticides, 76% (28 NHS Trusts) administer or are willing to administer direct fetal painkiller or sedative.

Of the 28 NHS Trusts who administer direct fetal painkiller/sedative, 18 (49%) NHS Trusts offer this as part of the procedure and 10 (26%) of NHS Trusts only consider fetal painkiller/sedative if specifically requested by the mother.

14% (5 NHS Trusts) do not give direct fetal painkiller or sedative and would not say if they would consider fetal painkiller if requested by the mother.

20% of the answers were ‘other’, arguably signifying that the policy is under review or comes down to a consultant’s discretion.

Two NHS Trusts were in the ‘No’ category: Shrewsbury and Telford. Both Trust’s stated that they wouldn’t give fetal painkiller even if asked to by the mother.

Oxford University Hospitals said in response to the FOI requests: “We use potassium chloride in our procedures for feticide. Our standard operating procedure is to inject the cord of the foetus and therefore so-called ‘painkiller’ is not required.”

It is correct that the umbilical cord has no nerves and therefore the needle itself would not be felt, however, this is of great concern as the fetus, then aged up to full term, would experience significantly more pain as the potassium chloride would enter via the umbilical vein, via the belly button into the liver, through the veins before reaching the heart and inducing cardiac arrest.

This data is significant because it is a near full picture of all NHS Trusts in England and it is the first time the NHS acknowledges it’s widespread use of fetal painkiller during abortions -previously only declaring its use of fetal painkillers in fetal surgeries from 19+0 gestational weeks.

The debate

The debate over fetal pain has spanned four decades ever since then MP David Alton first raised the issue in parliament in 1988. He said: “Wherever we come from in this debate, be we pro-life or pro-choice, opposed to or in favour of abortion, no one can be sanguine about the nature and consequences of late abortions.”

Pro-choice activists, however, have repeatedly denied that an unborn child can experience pain before or after 24 weeks.

Ann Furedi, the former chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has said: “Is there anything qualitatively different about the fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks?”

In 2010 the BBC covered what now appears to be a misleading report by the RCOG which was used to dismiss the existence of fetal pain during late term abortion and to insist that no challenge to abortion limits in the UK was needed. The report stated: “It can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation [24 weeks].

The BBC went onto report that: ‘Even after 24 weeks, the college concluded a foetus is naturally sedated and unconscious in the womb.

‘This could mean that late abortions, which are permitted for serious abnormalities or risks to the mother’s health, may not result in foetal suffering.

‘In addition, the report says anaesthetics, which can be risky, would not be required if a foetus requires surgery.’

In 2022, however, RCOG updated this guidance in their ‘Fetal Awareness Evidence Review’. The launch of the report was uncharacteristically low key, uploaded on the RCOG website in the week before Christmas without announcement.

The report revealed that RCOG no longer assert that a fetus is in an unconscious state until birth (the ‘sleep hypothesis’).

They also no longer included a section on responding to common questions, for example, the 2010 report states: “Will the baby suffer/feel pain? No, the fetus does not experience pain…”

Furthermore, they report that there is now mixed practice for fetal painkiller administration prior to a feticide: “Some units in the UK use fentanylin these procedures and some do not.”

Despite this, RCOG continues to be able to publish on this issue without any known accountability or oversight.

In 2020, research published by Dr Stuart Derbyshire, a pro-abortion medic who has worked for Planned Parenthood in the US, said there is now ‘good evidence’ that unborn babies experience pain before 12-weeks into the pregnancy. In 2006 he had denied that this was possible.

The current boss of BPAS, Clare Murphy, however, rejected Derbyshire’s findings and said they would not ‘lead to a change in practice.’

At the time, now crossbench peer, Lord Alton, said the new evidence: ‘Adds further pressure on Parliament to urgently review our current abortion time limit.’

No such urgent review has since taken place.

Tragedy of abortion

James Evans, a science teacher with a background in Genetics who carried out the investigation, said: “Whilst it is encouraging that half of these NHS Trusts now recognise, acknowledge and want to reform the management of fetal pain in late term abortions, the approach and silence from the other half of Trusts is very concerning.

“Although a quarter of these NHS Trusts are willing to give fetal painkiller, if specifically asked, do mothers know they can request this?

“For decades, parents have been deeply concerned at the prospect of their unborn babies experiencing pain as a result of their decision to terminate the pregnancy. Repeatedly, the abortion industry has brushed aside concerns, and are now continuing burying the evidence of their recklessness.”  

Mr Evans, whose experience includes being co-ordinator for the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group’s Inquiry into Fetal Pain, added: “The political nature of abortion has clouded the issue in clinical practice and resulted in some consultants withholding fetal painkiller rather than erring on the side of caution.

“The FOI data reveals the tragedy of abortion, but also a glimmer of hope that change and reform is coming. The urgency for every unborn child who faces an injection of potassium chloride is, however, unceasing. An urgent review of our current abortion time limit and late term abortion practices within the NHS must come now.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “The reality of what unborn babies experience in the womb, especially during late term abortions, is the greatest unspoken tragedy of our times.

“The abortion industry has a lot to answer for in the way it has misled women to believe that babies feel no pain in late term abortion. This is plainly untrue.

“The abortion industry has become entirely desensitised, to the point of refusing to recognise the excruciating pain inflicted on unborn babies, after 5 decades of eradicating their humanity and human rights.

“The abortion industry does not know where to draw the line on its long run campaign for ‘abortion on demand’. To recognise the reality of its policies and practices, and the pain and harm it causes, would mean their whole approach to abortion for any reason and at any cost, would have to collapse, which for them is unthinkable.

“We admire the tenacity and determination of James Evans to push for and collate this important data. But why is it left to individuals like him to unearth and analyse this data in their spare time? Why is the NHS and the government not taking a lead? What is there to hide, or is the reality of what our institutions have been doing to unborn children for decades too disturbing to face?

“As a minimum, the way forward must be to ensure full medical and follow on data is collected on women who have abortions so that public health services have a clear idea of what is happening.

“The data reveals signs of positive change in the NHS, but it is nowhere near enough. Urgent cross-party action must follow.”

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