Disproven: The Myth of Infants ‘Born Alive’ After Abortions

See other pieces from RH Reality Check‘s State of Abortion series here.

Review the database of state documents collected and analyzed by RH Reality Check here.

Are states harboring untold scores of Kermit Gosnell clones that are murdering aborted, but still living, fetuses in clinics across the country? In its letter to state attorneys general nationwide, the House Judiciary Committee seems to think so, taking at face value the anti-choice bogeyman of the soulless abortion doctor, slaughtering newborns in clinics across the country with nary a second thought.

The committee sent letters to all 50 state attorneys general, inquiring about criminal prosecutions related to abortion. The letters specifically cite the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, a 2002 federal law “which provides that all federal protections for persons apply to every infant born alive.” It asked state attorneys general whether “prosecutors in your state treat the deliberate killing of newborns, including those newborns who were delivered alive in the process of abortions, as a criminal offense?” and requested that state officials provide a log of cases for the years 2008 to 2013 in which the act has been used in prosecutions.

The answers provided by states show that Gosnell was, in fact, a rogue provider, and that there is no evidence of a pattern of infants being “born alive” after an abortion, much less of doctors killing infants in those circumstances. (Pennsylvania’s attorney general told RH Reality Check that it did not have a copy of what it had sent to the House Judiciary Committee, or whether it had in fact replied to the committee’s inquiry.)

In responses from 38 attorneys general to date, not one AG office provided evidence that it has ever had cause to prosecute a physician for delivering and then killing a viable fetus, indicating that this notion—that there are multiple cases of fetuses surviving an abortion, only to be killed by a doctor—is a confection of the anti-choice camp, designed to replace fact-based arguments with the lowest form of fear-mongering.

Many of the responses from the attorneys general sound much like this one, from the Utah attorney general:

We did not find any cases in which a person was prosecuted for the deliberate killing of a newborn who was delivered alive in the process of an abortion. Similarly, prosecutors did not indicate that they had prosecuted any cases because a woman died or suffered serious complications as a result of an abortion. Finally, we did not find any cases in which a person was prosecuted for performing abortions after the statutory period.

RH Reality Check has posted the responses from the attorneys general as part of our State of Abortion series. Our analysis of those responses shows that abortion is highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe. These findings hammer home the point that Pennsylvania’s Kermit Gosnell was an outlier. He has been convicted of first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and has pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. He has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The uniformity of responses from state attorneys general on the question of so-called born-alive infants reflects the reality of the practice of legal abortion in the United States: 88 percent of legal abortions performed happen before 12 weeks’ gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and well over 90 percent in the first 14 weeks. That reality is nothing like the nightmarish hyperbole put forward by the anti-choice movement.

When later abortions do occur, they can hardly be called “elective.” As Willie Parker, a Washington, D.C.-based doctor who provides later abortions, told the Washington Post last year, his patients come to him under “difficult circumstances,” with fetal genetic anomalies or in extreme poverty.

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, a professional organization of voluntarily self-regulating abortion providers nationwide, told RH Reality Check that evidence of “born-alive” infants killed by abortion providers is “not what anybody’s going to find.”

“This is not the standard of care or practice,” she said. “This is not what takes place at abortion clinics throughout the country.”

In fact, when individuals are prosecuted for the killing of newborns under the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act and state laws that mirror it, attorneys general report that they are parents, not physicians.

Michigan, for example, cited four cases of criminal prosecutions in the murder of a newborn child, all of which involved women who had recently given birth and asphyxiated, suffocated, or drowned a newborn..

In its response, the Idaho attorney general cites the tragic case of Jennie Linn McCormack, a woman who ordered medical abortion pills online in 2011 because she could not access or afford safe, legal abortion near her home, then used the pills to abort a non-viable fetus. Her case was ultimately dismissed.

But this question of “born-alive” infants after abortion has become a particular favorite among right-wing lawmakers looking to trap reproductive rights activists into advocating for murder.

During a state committee hearing in Florida earlier this year, anti-choice legislators ambushed a Planned Parenthood lobbyist with a “born alive” inquiry. Lawmakers asked her to consider a situation that is very real in terms of the crimes committed by Kermit Gosnell, but wildly hypothetical in the typical day-to-day practice of safe, legal abortion care as it is currently practiced in the United States. Flummoxed, the lobbyist struggled to answer questions that were largely based on a myth.

Responses both from states that heavily regulate abortion providers and abortion as a procedure—as South Dakota does—and states that place very few restrictions on either—as is the case in Vermont—are very much the same: They do not have cause to believe that their abortion providers are committing Gosnell-like atrocities, either rarely or with frequency.

Of course, as we receive more responses from state attorneys general, additional cases may come to light. For instance, a Florida doctor, James Scott Pendergraft IV, was subject to a $37 million judgment after one of his patients went into labor and delivered a daughter, in November 2001. The child survived, but “suffered catastrophic and permanent bodily injuries, impairment, disability, [and] disfigurement,” according to news accounts of the court documents. Many of these injuries were a result of her being born prematurely, at around 23.3 weeks. A pregnancy is generally considered full-term at 37 weeks.

Neither Pendergraft nor the other physician at the clinic had personally examined or assessed the patient, according to court documents, and her pregnancy was several weeks more advanced than she reportedly knew.

The Florida Board of Medicine has disciplined Pendergraft on numerous occasions. In 2007, it suspended Pendergraft’s medical license, and fined him $10,000 for allegedly performing an illegal third-trimester abortion. We are awaiting a copy of the Florida attorney general’s response to the committee, and will post it when it is received.

But even this case underscores the point: Instances of illegal providers can be found, but they are extraordinarily rare. And horrific as those cases may be, these two examples do not support any claims of a pattern of such cases throughout the United States.

Based on the evidence provided by states themselves, it is more than a little misleading for the House Judiciary Committee to suggest that newborn children are being murdered by abortion providers with regularity and abandon; it is the very myth-making and fear-mongering on which they increasingly rely in their push to eliminate safe abortion care.

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  • Valde

    he child survived, but “suffered catastrophic and permanent bodily
    injuries, impairment, disability, [and] disfigurement,” according to news accounts
    of the court documents. Many of these injuries were a result of her
    being born prematurely, at around 23.3 weeks. A pregnancy is generally considered full-term at 37 weeks.

    What the…I thought every neonate born at 23 weeks went on to be a Nobel Prize winner!

  • Valde

    http://www dot abortionno dot org/abortion-photos/verifying-photograph-authenticity/

    We are sometimes asked how and from what sources we have compiled our
    huge library (perhaps the largest in the world) of aborted baby photos
    and video. Understandably, the terms of our acquisition agreements
    prohibit the disclosure of that information. If we must divulge this
    information pursuant to the lawsuits we are preparing, we will do so “in
    camera,” which means in a judge’s chambers, off the record, so the
    information will be sealed and never made public. It doesn’t take much
    analytical ability to guess why. We are prepared, however, to say that
    we reject civil disobedience on tactical grounds (and violence on moral
    grounds) so we use only lawful means to acquire imagery.


    Their fee-fees are upset because pro-choicers have dared to question the authenticity of the images. The thing is, just because one of their buddies has verified that the photo was taken by him, or that it is of a dead fetus, is *meaningless*. And especially in the case of late term stuff – how do we know they just aren’t using a pic of a stillborn.

    In conclusion, we need your help in documenting examples of pro-abortion
    lies concerning CBR “photo fraud.” As you become aware of statements
    designed to discredit our organization, carefully note them and please
    pass the information on to us. When the time is right, we will make an
    example of those who attack the integrity of pro-lifers they know they
    can’t beat in honest debate.

    This is too funny they are so self righteous. And of course, they are comparing it all to the holocaust.

  • Valde

    Hey Alex, I remember you from LAN. You are a great poster! Fiona and I
    were banned, after which Roger (who is really quite proud of his stupid
    book) and that Andrew homeschooled teenager came back and thought they
    ‘owned’ us with their superior logic.

    • fiona64

      I just laugh at those twits at this point …

    • Liya

      LOL you&Fiona= double trouble.I was banned from my share of religious internets, but God be my witness, seeing fundie religious kooks coming outta the woodwork was always worth it.

      There was a story told onstage at some musical/religious BibleBelt-ish event, “Family Fest” or whatnot, Xtian rednecks ate it up cheering like nuts. About a -literally -kidney bean size baby surviving in a Petri dish and later becoming a pastor, amen!
      I looked it up – that’s the size of a 8 week post conception, it looks like a fish, the head making about half of the fetus body. Well,I do know a few pastors that still live in a Petri dish and maintain the same head/to body size ratio, so maybe…

      • fiona64

        According to one anti-choice nutter, Valde and I are the same person. It really is absurd.

        This is a great resource, BTW: http://www dot exploratorium dot edu/exhibits/embryo/embryoflash.html

        The majority of anti-choicers are woefully ignorant of biology and have no idea how similar the embryos of different viviparous vertebrates really look at comparable stages of development. The majority of people, in my experience, pick the skink — because they think it looks most human.

        Most anti-choicers, BTW, just crow “the one with human parents” rather than admit that they got it wrong, LOL.

        • Liya

          If that’s the case, you have 2 sets of hands, typing
          different large texts simultaneously (I saw you posting within few seconds of each other as well as other indicators show the accusation is bull – as a database developer, it made me professionally curious, re: duplicate date sources).Well, I often stand for minority ( gay) rights, so I am usually accused of being gay & male

          Neat page, thanks. I chose skink, too.

      • HeilMary1

        That would make one funny scary movie spoofing the fetal idolaters! — their adult-sized pastor literally has a giant fetal fish face because he survived birth at two months and requires the human sacrifice of virgins to continue surviving.

  • Valde

    I’ve only ever heard of one case about a failed ‘born alive’ abortion

    http://en dot wikipedia dot org/wiki/Gianna_Jessen

    “Gianna Jessen (born April 6, 1977, Los Angeles, California) is an American Christian pro-life activist. The crux of her activism is that she was born with cerebral palsy because of a failed saline abortion attempt.”

    “Jessen’s career as an activist began in 1991, when she was 14. At that
    time, her adoptive mother, Dianna DePaul, asserted that Jessen was born
    in the 30th week of pregnancy to a 17 year old girl during a failed saline abortion attempt”


    First off, abortions at 30 weeks are illegal and, saline abortion can’t exactly cause cerebral palsy, can it?

    This whole story sounds slightly fishy.

    • bintalshamsa

      The Gianna case is real. There’s another, too. Her name is Brandi Lozier. She was also born alive after a botched saline abortion. She also has cerebral palsy and several other disabilities as a result of being born to early and being burned by the procedure.

      I know Brandi personally. Even though we disagree about the issue of abortion, I can respect her as an individual and a survivor of something that most folks will never even hear about, much less experience. Saline abortions are rarely performed any more, so that’s why you don’t hear about cases like this occurring. However, Gianna and Brandi were born in the era before chemical abortions and the more effective methods that are available today.

      • Valde

        Interesting. Thanks for the info.

        So, Brandi doesn’t stoop to accusing you of being a ‘baby killer’ simply because you disagree with her?

      • Cactus_Wren

        Burned? By salt water?

        Do an image-Google search on “swimming Dead Sea”. The water of the Dead Sea is FAR more saline than the mixture formerly used for saline abortions.

  • Cranky Steven

    This is a crock. As an RN I have seen infants survive abortion if only relatively briefly.

    • HeilMary1

      If you are anti-abortion, why would you work with abortion patients?

    • Arekushieru

      And… that was our point…? DERP.

  • cat

    I use to work for a publishing firm that published catholic news weeklies. I was really disgusted by the religious wingnuts who felt it was ok to place flyers in their paper with photos of aborted fetuses. I don’t mind people who use shock values to get their message out there, (even if they are crazy) but when you put cr*p like that in a place where children can see it they need to be arrested, not the Dr’s who are performing a LEGAL service. These idiots are trying to set back women’s rights a couple of hundred years.

  • crankycatholic

    Why do you conclude babies aren’t being born in abortion rooms, when your findings only suggest that no baby has been murdered after abortion?

    If the baby is born and survives, there’s no crime.

    • Arekushieru

      Apparently, someone doesn’t read very well when THIS: The child survived, but “suffered catastrophic and permanent bodily
      injuries, impairment, disability, [and] disfigurement,” according to news accounts
      of the court documents. Many of these injuries were a result of her
      being born prematurely, at around 23.3 weeks. A pregnancy is generally considered full-term at 37 weeks; CLEARLY suggests that, as the author STATED, infants do not commonly survive an abortion only to be left to die or ‘murdered’ later. After all, this is a claim YOUR ilk often makes, the very one YOU were making, HERE, NOT ours. And THAT is the question she was answering. SFS.

    • Arekushieru

      You’re missing the point. That is not what the post is claiming, AS I
      HAVE SAID. They are disputing the idea that antis claim, that infants
      commonly survive abortion attempts and are then left to die, as I have
      ALSO said. Please go back and read.

  • Freethinker01

    It is probably safe to say, Andrea and Sharona, that you believe human beings that are breathing deserve the Constitutional right to life and due process. Right? Anyone caught killing a breathing baby should be arrested and charged with murder, right?
    Then I see no reason why you should object to strict governmental oversight to insure that fetal homicide is not taking place in abortion clinics. Because it is most certainly a possibility that abortion doctors commit fetal homicide–Gosnell is an example–what harm is there in ensuring that innocent, born human beings are not getting killed?
    This is serious business. Life and death business. In addition to support abortion laws, it seems to me that you should be very happy about laws that protect babies after they’re born. That is…if you honestly care about Constitutional rights for living, breathing human beings.

    • Arekushieru

      Neither a neonate nor a fetus can be innocent or guilty. Legally, you have to be BORN to be a human being. Therefore being BORN can NOT be a descriptor of a human being.

      And why do you claim to be a freethinker when you can’t even think outside of the box (specifically, form rational opinions away from the typical anti talking points)? AS WE HAVE SAID, NUMEROUS times, there are ALREADY laws in place to protect infants born alive, BUT, and here’s the quote, again (because apparently you didn’t read it the first, second or THIRD time): The child survived, but “suffered catastrophic and permanent bodily injuries, impairment, disability, [and] disfigurement,” according to news accountsof the court documents. Many of these injuries were a result of her being born prematurely, at around 23.3 weeks. A pregnancy is generally considered full-term at 37 weeks; which MEANS (and this goes to crankycatholic above, if he STILL doesn’t get it) that the infants aren’t simply being left to die as antis like to CLAIM, they simply cannot SURVIVE outside of the uterus at that STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT. See how simple that was?

      You ARE aware that there is no such thing as an abortion doctor, right? An abortion doctor would refer to someone who ONLY provides abortions. However, an abortion provider is typically also an ob/gyn, y’know, someone who assists a woman during pregnancy, labour and DELIVERY???

    • fiona64

      You didn’t read the article, did you? You’re promulgating a *myth.*


  • CatherineE17
  • SickofPoliticks

    Dr. Gosnell disproves your myth that infants born alive after abortions are a myth. You people are nothing more than accessories to murder. And you revel in it. Sick people. Every one of you.