Imagine this: An infant is born severely prematurely, struggling for life. The new mother, maybe knowing the infant’s odds, maybe not, decides that she does not want to subject her child to and unknown number of days, weeks, months, or possibly even years of tubes, wires, and painful procedures. Instead, she tells the doctor, “Please, do not take any heroic measures. Make my child comfortable, but do not resuscitate, do not intubate. Just let nature take its course and let my child pass peacefully.”
What are the words you would use to describe this mother’s actions?
Compassionate? Heartbreaking? Merciful?
Cruel? Barbaric? Inhuman?
In Live Action’s latest undercover “investigation” of America’s “late-term abortion industry,” they claim to document “the blatantly inhuman and barbaric acts of abortionists leaving crying babies to die, or even killing the newborns themselves.” These videos, released to coincide and capitalize on the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, are predictable yellow journalism at its finest.
During the videos, a pregnant woman (an “undercover agent” from Live Action) visits several women’s health centers and speaks with nurses, counselors, doctors and other health center staff about terminating her pregnancy at approximately 23 weeks gestation. She asks the staff how the procedure is done, while oh-so-casually slipping in questions that test them to see if they will violate either state or federal law.
***SPOILER ALERT: NONE OF THEM DO***
However, the Live Action team, never being ones to let truth stop their attempts to undermine the life-saving work of legitimate health care providers, still claim that these videos “expose” both the Arizona and Washington DC clinics engaging in infanticide and/or violating the Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002 (BAIPA).
BAIPA was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. While the Act was hailed by anti-choice activists as a boon for protecting the “unborn,” all it really did was to codify what was already standing law: that for the purposes of US law, “person” means a born human.
And that’s it.
Contrary to what some anti-choice advocates would have the public believe, it created no civil or criminal penalties, and created no responsibilities nor placed any restrictions on the types of medical care a doctor or parent must provide or can choose to withhold to an infant once it is born.
Let us repeat that: BAIPA created absolutely NO legal responsibilities to care for a born infant beyond those that already existed within the law.
And no such requirement exists anywhere in this country. Why is that, you might ask? Because doing so would interfere with a doctor’s ability to determine what is in the best interest of his/her patients. Doctors, together with patients (or the legal representatives of patients), are responsible for determining whether or not heroic lifesaving measures are to be performed where the chance of survival is slim to none. Just as the mother in our introduction has the right to reject medical treatment for her extremely premature infant, so does the mother of an infant born extremely prematurely as the result of a failed abortion. Parental rights are not negated simply because a pregnancy is unintended. The parent of an infant born alive after an abortion still has the right to either request or deny medical treatment for that infant.
It’s also worth it to note that in neither the District of Columbia nor Arizona is there such a crime as infanticide. If a person were to purposefully kill a born infant, that person would most likely be charged with homicide. Fortunately for doctors and patients, and unfortunately for the fact-checking team over at Live Action, deciding whether or not to resuscitate an extremely premature infant does not fall under the category of homicide.
Which brings us to the videos themselves.
In the video surreptitiously recorded at a clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, the women repeatedly asks center staff what would happen if the fetus were to be born whole and/or alive and moving and the following exchange takes place:
Woman: Does it come out in like pieces or does it come out whole?
Doctor: It depends. Every case is a little bit different because the medicines we give you will help us do different things. But it’s more common that it comes out in pieces.
First, just so we’re all clear about this, in each case, the woman is scheduled to have a dilation and evacuation, NOT an intact dilation and extraction or induction. During a dilation and evacuation, the contents of the uterus are removed using suction and instruments. A 23-week fetus will NEVER be removed intact during a dilation and evacuation; a fetus and all other products of conception are removed in pieces using suction and instruments.
We’re fairly certain that a Live Action agent would be briefed on this type of procedure before attempting to infiltrate a clinic, so we’re a little unsure as to what the point of asking this question was, unless it was to attempt to paint the clinic in a poor light through the use of selective editing during the cutting process.
In Washington, DC, the undercover agent asks the counselor she sees:
Woman: Oh, OK. So, like, when it comes out, like does it, like–can it, like, move or anything?
Woman: No? OK. So, like–it’s never happened–like, breathing, or–?
Woman: What if it, like, happened to me, though?
Clinic-1: Trust me: it won’t.
Woman: It won’t?
Clinic-1: No. Because then if that happened we would have to transfer you to the hospital, and it [the baby] would have to be resuscitated, so we don’t do that.
Woman: Then the baby would have to be–?
Clinic-1: Yeah, yeah.
Woman: And then it–seriously?
Woman: So if it came out, and it was still breathing–?
Clinic-1: We’d have to move on.
Woman: We would have to go to the hospital?
Clinic-1: Yeah, we’d have to.
However, the clinic worker states several more times that this has never happened.
When she finally sees Dr. Santangelo, she again asks if he has ever had a baby survive an abortion at his clinic. “Not here, no. No,” he states. The woman pushes him further, asking but what if it did? The doctor responds, “I mean, you know, technically, you know, legally, we would be obligated to help it, you know, to survive, but, you know, it probably wouldn’t. It’s all in how vigorously you do things to help a fetus survive at this point.” He then says he wouldn’t intubate and, after the woman presses, “So you would make sure it wouldn’t survive?” he says, “We wouldn’t do any extra,” and then compares it a “Do Not Resuscitate” order on a terminally ill patient.
A similar conversation takes places in Phoenix:
Woman: So if, just, just for, you know, clarification, like, if it, um, if we just were to happen if the water broke or whatever and I go into labor and it comes out. I call you immediately, or she calls you. And then you guys take care of the situation. Like am I…would I…then, like, be, like, required, like, to take care of it still, even if I’m not calling the ambulance, like if it survives?
Doctor: It won’t.
Woman: But if it — if it does survive, what would you do, like what?
Doctor: Nothing. So at this gestational age, there’s really not a possibility — a, a fetus is not developed enough that it can survive outside of the uterus at this point. Twenty-four weeks is where we start to see some success and that’s when we’ve been able to do things like give steroids and there’s a lot of other things that we do. But at this point, in the rare case that you were to deliver at home before you got back to us – that is technically a possibility but very, very rare – in the rare case that that rare thing happened, and in the even rarer case that there was still a heartbeat, um, the…the fetus wouldn’t be able to survive after delivery for very long.
Woman: Okay. So you wouldn’t like resuscitate it or, like, give it anything to help it survive?
Doctor: No. Even – in case this helps put it all in perspective – even if you were pregnant at the same time with a very desired pregnancy. And you had the exact same thing happen spontaneously all on your own at 23 weeks and two days. In the hospital, we would still say, ‘do you want us to try to resuscitate, our chances aren’t good, but if it will make …’ It’s kind of one of those things that if it makes the parents feel better, we’ll give it a shot between twenty-three and twenty-four weeks—”
Woman: But you won’t give a shot for me, though. Like, you’ll just—
Doctor: Absolutely not.
Woman: Okay, ‘cause if I’m paying for it, you know, I don’t want to walk out of here with a baby.
Doctor: Absolutely. No, no, no. But I’m just trying to…Even if it was a completely…the flip side where it was a baby you wanted, your odds are still—
Doctor: Right. There’s just…babies just don’t survive this.
Woman: But you just wouldn’t take that extra step to resuscitate—
Doctor: We just wouldn’t go through all the steps to resuscitate. Even in a desired pregnancy, we nine times out of ten don’t resuscitate. Like, we only do if the parents, like, really want us to because, you know, you know what I mean. It’s really not until twenty-five weeks that we resuscitate every baby.
Later, when the undercover agent goes in to talk with the counselor, she again asks what would happen if it was born alive, would they resuscitate? After all, she doesn’t want to worry about having to “take a baby home.” The counselor answers, “no, they would not.”
Dr. Mercer, the amazing doctor in the video, is correct in stating that prior to 24 weeks resuscitation efforts are often not undertaken. This blog post from a NICU nurse does an excellent job at describing why that is true. Infants born prior to 24 weeks simply aren’t developed enough to have a high chance of survival. For instance, infants born at 22 weeks have only a 2% chance of surviving long enough to leave the hospital, a 19% chance at 23 weeks, a 40% chance at 24 weeks, a 66% chance at 25 weeks, and a 77% chance at 26 weeks (the cut-off for extreme prematurity). Further, even when such infants do survive, their risk of having lifelong, severe debilitating illnesses is incredibly high; 95% of those born prior to 23 weeks suffer from profound neurodevelopmental impairment, including intractable seizures, needing a feeding tube because of an inability to swallow, having varying degrees of blindness and deafness, having spastic quadraplegia and being wheelchair bound, and never being able to speak.
Contrary to what Live Action and Lila Rose would have you believe, these doctors are not in any way offering to violate BAIPA. The pregnant woman has expressed her desire not to be pregnant and her fear about having to take a baby home should the abortion “fail.” Their responses are meant to reassure her that this has never happened and, if it hypothetically did, she can be assured that her medical wishes regarding her child will be honored – in this case, that the doctors not take any heroic measure to save a severely premature infant that she has clearly expressed she does not wish to parent.
The fact that doctors recognize and act upon the fact that extremely premature infants have differing survival rates, that survival will not necessarily equal a healthy infant, and that the parents of prematurely infants are legally entitled to a say in whether heroic measures should be taken to prolong the life of such an infant does not make them monsters or killers. It makes them compassionate medical professionals who want what is best for their patients, which includes not needlessly prolonging any patient’s pain and suffering. Dr. Leah Torres, an OB/Gyn who provides abortion care as part of her practice and who has written about the topic of “failed abortions” and how the care of an infant should be handled if that extremely unlikely scenario should occur, has stated, “Despite popular opinion, we are not monsters. We are physicians who seek to minimize the trauma of this difficult decision…As an OB/Gyn who takes care of women who are young and old, pregnant and not pregnant, my responsibility is to my patient. In the case of a pregnant woman, my responsibility is to her.”
In closing, we have to give Master Shakespeare credit for being such a visionary. Being able to describe the recent works released by Lila Rose and the Live Action team more than four centuries in advance is quite the feat. For her latest videos truly are tales told by idiots, full of lots of sound and lots of fury, but signifying nothing.
Till next time,
– H and special guest blogger @brazenqueer