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On Wednesday, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill that would require doctors to try to save the lives of babies born after abortion attempts. SB 157 also increases certain regulations for abortion practices, which could cause two abortion clinics in the state to close.
The bill provides, in part, “No person who performs an abortion shall purposely fail to take the measures required by the exercise of medical judgment in light of the attending circumstances to preserve the health or life of a child who is alive when removed from the uterus of the pregnant woman.”
Now that it has passed the House, the bill moves to the Senate for revisions. Critics of the bill claim that it’s not necessary, according to Cleveland.com: “Abortion-rights advocates say no babies die during botched abortions in Ohio since the state bans abortion at 20 weeks of gestation when a fetus can’t survive outside of the womb.” (While the abortion-rights advocates quoted here say “no babies die,” I think a more accurate wording would be to say “all babies die” during abortions, botched or not, when they are withheld life-saving care post-birth.)
However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data referenced by the bill’s sponsors and the Family Research Council indicate that this is not the case. According to the CDC, 143 infant deaths between 2003-2014 “could definitively be classified as involving an induced termination,” meaning an attempted abortion that resulted in a baby’s death outside of the womb. (The CDC notes that the real number could be different due to vague language used in reporting.)
Further, it’s not accurate to say that all fetuses can’t survive outside of the womb at 20 weeks gestation. While the survival rate is less than 50 percent, according to Healthline, “a baby born between 20 and 26 weeks is a considered to be periviable, or born during the window when a fetus has a chance of surviving outside the womb. These babies are called ‘micro-preemies.’” In addition, the age of viability for babies continues to reach lower levels of gestation as life-support advancements make it possible for babies to survive earlier births.
The bill’s other provision deals with “variances from written transfer agreements,” making it unlawful for certain doctors to contract with abortion clinics, which would affect Women’s Med Center in the Dayton area and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio in Cincinnati.
Speaking about the bill in October, state Sen. Terry Johnson said, “The bill acknowledges the simple fact that regardless of the circumstances surrounding his or her birth, every child deserves our compassion [and] care.”
Only 16 states offer “strong protections” for infants born after abortion attempts, the Family Research Council reported last year. Thirteen states, it says, offer no protection at all. Abortion advocates who argue that this type of legislation is unnecessary point to The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which provides that a human being born alive at any stage of development is, in fact, a human being. This act, however, does not specifically require doctors to perform life-saving care on infants who survive abortion and criminalize doing otherwise. More federal legislation, such as The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act of 2019, has been proposed to strengthen these protections, but so far, it has failed to pass.
How does this legislation affect the community at large? It’s fair to say it affects those acutely connected to the pregnancy the most, not least of whom is the baby born alive. Abortion survivor Gianna Jessen was seven months in the womb when her mother was advised to have an abortion, and, as she told the Washington Post in 2016, “doctors did not expect me to live.” Jessen attributes her life to the care she received after a nurse took action to transfer her to a hospital.
“I have met other survivors of abortion,” Jessen says. “They are all thankful for life.”