One baby in 30 left alive after medical terminationby FIONA MACRAE
Sep. 28, 2008
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One in 30 babies aborted for medical reasons is born alive, a study has found.
They lived for an average of 80 minutes - although in some cases foetuses survived for over six hours.
Most of the babies were born between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, but some had been in the womb for as little as 17 weeks.
The figures, based on a study of West Midlands hospitals, has reignited the abortion debate, with pro-life campaigners demanding the time limit for terminations be cut.
Researchers looked at the outcome of 3,189 abortions performed on seriously handicapped foetuses at 20 hospitals between 1995 and 2004.
It showed that 102 - or around one in 30 - aborted for reasons such as Down's Syndrome and heart defects, were born alive.
Abortions are allowed to be carried out if the pregnancy is shown to have an adverse effect on the mental health and wellbeing of the mother up until the 24th week of pregnancy.
Beyond this point, the procedure is only sanctioned if the baby has a severe disability or if the mother's life is at risk.
The latest study, carried out by experts from the West Midlands Perinatal Institute and published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, showed that three per cent of aborted disabled babies were born alive.
Most of the abortions studied were medical abortions. These involve a women being given a series of pills, taken in two doses two days apart.
The first dose, a single tablet of mifepristone, blocks the pregnancy hormones that normally ensure the womb's lining holds on to the fertilised egg. The second dose, of four tablets containing hormone-like prostaglandins, triggers contractions and a miscarriage.
The death of the baby is a result of the trauma of the early birth, rather than the tablets itself, meaning, in rare occasions, some babies may survive the process.
From 22 weeks, the tablets should be preceded by a lethal injection into the baby's heart to ensure the baby is dead before the procedure goes any further.
If these babies are born alive, it suggests they weren't given the heart-stopping injection - perhaps because the doctor thought it would have been too traumatic for the mother. The figures follow several studies which show that babies born at 23 and 24 weeks are capable of surviving.
While there is no suggestion that any of the babies documented in the West Midlands study lived for more than a few hours, doctors in Norwich are currently treating a toddler born at 24 weeks after three botched terminations.
He was born three years ago and is still alive.
Campaigners said it was likely the Midlands figures were just the tip of the iceberg as the region only accounts for around a tenth of the babies born in the country each year.
In addition, the study only looked at babies whose lives were ended because of disability.
However, most abortions are carried out on 'healthy' babies for social reasons. Julia Millington of the pro-life group Alive and Kicking said: "This can't just be happening in the West Midlands.
"It begs the question of how many healthy babies must be surviving? It would suggest the true figure must be much higher.
"With live births after abortion occurring in 18 out of the 20 maternity units in the West Midlands alone, it is difficult to comprehend the numbers of babies around the country left fighting for their lives."
Babies born alive after abortion are entitled to medical care. However, anti-abortion campaigners claim that some are so unwanted, they are simply left to die.
The Department of Health said that key medical associations agreed that the time limit for abortion did not need to be changed.
• Thirty years ago, Gianna Jessen's mother had an abortion when seven-and-a-half months pregnant.
The abortion failed and, 18 hours later, Gianna (pictured) was born alive.
She suffered cerebral palsy as a result of the botched abortion, yet has defied doctors' predictions that she would never walk.
In fact she has run a marathon, is an accomplished singer and writer and travels the world to campaign against abortion.
Her mother was 17 when she decided to have the abortion. Weighing 2lbs when she was born, she spent several months in hospital fighting for her life, before being placed in a foster home.
Her cerebral palsy, which was caused by her brain being starved of oxygen during the abortion, was diagnosed at 17 months old. Doctors said she would never be able to crawl or even sit-up unaided, much less stand or walk.
Now, after several operations and years of physiotherapy she has proved them wrong. Gianna does not know why her natural mother chose to abort her.
She said: "If abortion is about women's rights, then what were my rights?
"No decision is solely yours to make. All decisions affect another human being - whether it is for good or for ill.
"If people are going to talk about abortion, then it's important for them to know that these babies can be born alive and survive."