British health experts say the human fetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks, so there is no reason to change the country's abortion laws.
The government-commissioned study is a setback for anti-abortion activists, who want the country's current 24-week time limit for terminations reduced.
The study says that nerve connections in the brain are not sufficiently formed to allow pain perception before 24 weeks.
“There is no way to quantify pain in-utero,” Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor at FoxNews.com and chairman of OB/GYN at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., said. “To say that we don’t know if fetuses feel pain before 24 weeks would be a more accurate statement.”
“There is overwhelming evidence that fetuses react to sound,” Alvarez told FoxNews.com. “And I know from personal experience — when we do an in-utero procedure with a needle for diagnostic tests, if the needle touches the fetus, we know the fetus reacts.”
In a study published in the journal Child Development in July 2009, researchers from the Netherlands found fetuses were capable of having short-term memory by 30- to 38-weeks of gestation.
The study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, published Friday, was recommended by lawmakers who are considering lowering the abortion limit.
The doctors say there is increasing evidence that even after 24 weeks, the fetus is in a state of "continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation."
Alvarez, who has been an OB/GYN for nearly three decades, said he hopes other scientists will comment on these findings “since we are talking about a human life.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.