Until now, the consensus of medical opinion has been that foetuses cannot feel pain before 24 weeks’ gestation, after which abortion is illegal in Britain except in special cases.

But two medical researchers, including a ‘pro-choice’ British pain expert who used to think there was no chance foetuses could feel pain that early, say recent studies strongly suggest the assumption is incorrect.

The studies indicate unborn babies might be able to feel ‘something like pain’ as early as 13 weeks, they say.

Women going for abortions who have reached this stage of pregnancy should be told the foetus could experience pain while being terminated, they argue. And medical staff should ask if the woman wants it to be given pain relief.