Abortion, foetal pain relief and the law

Abortion law review

Sir, – Over a year ago, the Dáil voted against a Bill which would have provided precautionary pain relief to unborn children in late-term abortions. At the time, the Government rationalised that the three-year review into the Irish abortion legislation would evaluate all issues related to abortion and thus blocked the foetal pain relief Bill. Now that a report from the review is anticipated shortly, the issue of pain relief should feature in its recommendations.

As noted during the debate, scientific research has pointed to the reality that unborn children in late-term abortions can experience pain. Some studies have noted that as early as 12 weeks, foetal pain is possible. A 2020 article by Prof Stuart Derbyshire and Dr John Bockmann published in the British Journal of Medical Ethics illustrated the reality of foetal pain. Since then, more research has emerged supporting this conclusion.

Most recently, in December 2022, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued its Foetal Awareness Evidence Review. This included a recognition that foetal pain relief is now in practice across Britain as mixed practice. This precedent demonstrates that administering foetal pain relief is increasingly common and should inform public policy in Ireland. Moreover, the latest report removed previous references (from 2010) such as claims that an unborn child could not experience pain during an abortion, in keeping with the latest medical and scientific research.

As Ireland’s abortion law review draws to a close, the moderate and humanitarian proposal of administering foetal pain relief should feature in its recommendations. This would be a small but meaningful gesture of compassion for the unborn child. – Yours, etc,



Pro Life Campaign,

Dublin 2.