Politics & Policy

Infant Protection: Misinformation from the NYT

Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Fact-checking a fact check

Denise Grady claims to be providing facts about the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to correct President Trump.

Let’s take a look at some of the claims in the fact check.

1) Grady writes,

The bill would require doctors to use all means available to save the life of a child born alive after an attempted abortion. They must, it says, “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” as they would for “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

The first sentence is false, because the second sentence is accurate. No law requires that all means available be used to save the life of infants generally (or of other people, for that matter), and this legislation would not create such an obligation for any infant.

2) “Opponents said that the bill was aimed at discouraging doctors from performing legal abortions and that it was unnecessary because a similar law already exists, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002.”

In an article that purports to be providing the truth behind the political debate over this legislation, no attempt is made either to back up these claims from opponents or to explain why supporters reject them.

The legislation would discourage abortion only if abortion often resulted in the live births of infants who are then either killed or denied the normal medical treatment given to other infants at the same stage of development. That is not true, and it is at odds with the main line of argument the opponents themselves make (namely, that the kind of situation the bill targets is too rare to be worth considering).

The legislation makes significant changes to the 2002 law, which is why some people are supporting it and others opposing it. The 2002 law, for example, includes no penalties. Whether these changes are “necessary” cannot be answered simply by invoking the law that they change.

3) Grady claims that “it hardly ever happens” that infants are born alive in the process of abortions. Her first piece of evidence is the say-so of one person, a spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists who performs abortions. How many of these cases count as “hardly ever” goes unexamined.

We don’t have reliable numbers about how often these cases occur nationally. The state of Arizona reports that ten cases happened during five months in 2017. Florida reports eleven for the full year of 2017. The CDC has an estimate, which it suggests could well be too low, of 143 cases from 2003 through 2014.

4) Grady writes:

A healthy fetus becomes viable — potentially able to survive outside the womb — at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Only about 1.3 percent of abortions in the United States in 2015 were performed in or after the 21st week of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less than 1 percent of all abortions are done after 24 weeks . . .

As I’ve noted before, 1.3 percent of an estimated 926,000 abortions annually works out to about 12,000, which is more than the number of gun homicides each year.

5) “. . . and many are performed because the fetus has a fatal condition or the pregnant woman’s life or health is at severe risk.” This is an improvement on the typical claim in these kinds of articles that late abortions are always done for these reasons. But the weakness of the claim being made is striking. That “many” are performed for this reason does not exclude the possibility that many, or even most, are not. While this is another area where we do not have great data, a review of the literature in 2013 indicated that most abortions after the 20th week are not done “for reasons of fetal abnormality or life endangerment.”

6) Grady continues:

Dr. Grossman [the ACOG spokesman] said there were painful situations in which the fetus might be at the edge of viability and labor must be induced to save the mother’s life. . . . If it seems unlikely that the baby will survive, the family may choose to provide just comfort care — wrapping and cuddling the baby — and allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.

The bill would force doctors to resuscitate such an infant, even if the parents did not want those measures, said Dr. Jennifer Conti, an obstetrician gynecologist who is a fellow of Physicians for Reproductive Health, an advocacy group.

No, it wouldn’t. The text of the bill mandates only (as noted above) that health-care providers “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” That’s not a mandate for extraordinary measures.

7) More Grady:

Dr. Grossman said that medically, every case was different. “There isn’t a bright line,” he said. “No one could say we would always do this at one gestational age, and do something else at another gestational age. It depends on whether the fetus is already compromised.”

The bill does not deny that individual cases present their own circumstances. Nor does it pretend that all infants at 27 weeks require the same course of action. That’s why the requirement is for the same degree of skill, care, and diligence, not for the same course of action. It’s a non-discrimination provision.

The New York Times may have set out to provide a fact check, but it has managed to publish an article that leaves readers with less understanding of the issue at its end than at its beginning.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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