'smile' fires abortion row
By Rebecca Urban, James Meikle
Images published for the first time yesterday suggesting
unborn babies smile, blink and cry months before they leave the
womb have renewed calls for abortion to be outlawed.
The pictures, published in London, show foetuses at 26 weeks exhibiting
facial expressions. The images were captured by state-of-the-art
Anti-abortion groups seized on the revelation, saying the images
confirmed what they had argued all along: that a foetus was a human
being with human characteristics.
The technology, known as a 3-D/4-D ultrasound, also reveals limb
movements at eight weeks, leaping, turning and jumping at 11 to
12 weeks, intricate finger movements at 15 weeks and yawning at
Whether the facial expressions are an emotional response or merely
physical reflex is likely to be debated
An obstetrician who has been using the Austrian-developed equipment
at a private London health clinic for two years, Stuart Campbell,
said: "It is remarkable that a newborn baby does not smile for about
six weeks after birth. But before birth, most babies smile frequently.
This may indicate the baby's trouble-free existence in the womb
and the relatively traumatic first few weeks after birth when the
baby is reacting to a strange environment."
In Australia yesterday, anti-abortionist Senator Brian Harradine
said governments had a responsibility to at least look at the new
information to emerge from London. Similar evidence pointing to
activity in the womb had existed for several years, but had largely
been ignored, he said. "The photos show abortion is actually killing
these unborn children. It really is time the massacre stopped."
A Victorian Government spokesman said abortion laws were based on
years of scientific research and while the Government was interested
in all new medical developments and theories, any major policy review
on abortion was a long way off.
Pro-Life Victoria secretary Denise Cameron said she was not surprised
by the photographs. The information would bolster the campaign for
a review of abortion laws.
"It is very, very exciting news for us... that babies at 26 weeks
are smiling and laughing in utero," said Ms Cameron, speaking from
the Freedom To Be Born rally at Treasury Gardens yesterday.
"No longer can you deny that what is in the womb is a living being.
We have always known that every abortion is killing a baby."
Australian Doctors Who Represent Human Life president Kevin Hume,
said pro-life groups had believed for years that a foetus had human
characteristics. The images would allow them to say, "I told you
"If evidence of human features, smiling and so forth, appear at
an early age it means we should look again at... abortion that is
carried out in the first and second trimesters," he said. "We're
looking at recognisable human beings."
Melbourne's Catholic vicar-general, Monsignor Les Tomlinson, said
he expected the images would ignite further debate on abortion.
He backed a review of abortion laws.
"The Catholic Church's position has always been that we would regard
human life from the moment of conception. So this would certainly
be scientific evidence of the correctness of our belief," he said.
"Any revisiting of the legislation would be welcomed by us."
Australian Birth Control Services medical director Geoff Brodie
said he doubted the pictures would have much impact on the abortion
"I think they are clutching at straws," he said. "No doubt it will
be picked up by those groups that use anything and everything to
stop terminations but ignore the fact that women have a right to
The 3-D/4-D ultrasound reveals more detailed and life-like scans
of a foetus than the common 2-D ultrasound that concentrates largely
on the internal organs.
Obstetrician Professor Campbell said he believed the new technology
meant there were many questions that could now be investigated.
"Do babies with genetic problems such as Down syndrome have the
same pattern of activity as normal babies? Does the foetus smile
because it is happy or cry because it has been disturbed by some
event in the womb? Why does a baby blink when we assume it is dark
inside the uterus?" Professor Campbell said.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne said scientific
evidence still maintained that babies in the womb did not smile.
Dr Brodie, of Australian Birth Control Services, said it was still
unknown if smiles, or other facial movements, were the result of
neurological reflexes or emotional development.
The $A290,000 scanner that makes the images possible costs two to
three times more than conventional equipment. The machine develops
ultrasound so that it can be transformed and shaded to produce detailed
surface features from the foetus that move in real time. It is already
improving diagnosis of abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate.
- with Guardian