An unborn baby responds to touch just five-and-a-half weeks after conception. But at what stage of an unborn baby's development does it become capable of feeling pain?
"We simply do not know," was the verdict of Professor David Smith, chief editor of Neuroscience.
Professor Eve Johnstone, of Edinburgh University, head of the Medical Research Council's expert group, said an unborn baby is definitely aware of pain by 24 weeks of pregnancy, and possibly as early as 20 weeks.
Professor Vivette Glover, of Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London, called for unborn babies to be given anaesthetic in all abortions from 18 weeks.
Some doctors believe an unborn baby can feel pain at 13 weeks or less.
One report based on the work of leading gynaecologists and neurologists said the foetus is capable of feeling pain from about the 10th week of pregnancy.
And one doctors' report said scientists were not sure whether babies were able to feel pain from six weeks upwards, and pain relief should be given before all foetal procedures.
I mention the matter because Simon Icke, a Christian who used to live in Little Hulton, on the outskirts of Manchester, but now lives in Buckinghamshire, wrote to his MP pointing out that doctors had been found arranging abortions for women who wanted an abortion because their unborn child was the "wrong" sex (abortions on the ground of a baby's sex are illegal in Britain), and questioning the claim that in most abortions the baby feels no pain.
The MP, David Lidington, appears to have passed the letter to Health Minister Anne Milton. In her reply, she quoted claims in a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that the foetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks because the connections in the foetal brain are not fully formed; the foetus, while in the chemical environment in the womb, is in a state of induced sleep and is unconscious; because the 24-week foetus has no awareness and cannot feel pain, the use of analgesia is of no benefit; and more research is needed into the short and long-term effects of the use of foetal analgesia after 24 weeks.
Unfortunately, critics say the RCOG report is "a political rather than a scientific document that aimed to shore up the pre-existing position of the RCOG rather than to take a dispassionate view of the scientific evidence." The RCOG's statement that the ability of the foetus to feel pain cannot occur before 24 weeks, they say, is the result of "the substitution of wishful thinking for empirical enquiry."
Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant neonatologist, says there is no evidence that a human foetus lacks awareness and there is strong evidence for an opposite view. The RCOG's statement that there is good evidence that the foetus is sedated by the physical environment of the womb, he says, is simply not true.
The Government appears to have no desire to change existing abortion limits.
But if unborn babies are to be killed, what of the suggestion that an anaesthetic should be given before the abortionist's tools do their deadly work?
Is it a question of "out of sight, out of mind," or does not giving an anaesthetic help doctors pretend "It's all right. They're not really babies"?