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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Care call for abortion survivors
Doctors on ward
Doctors have to discuss what the best care for each baby would be
Babies who survive abortions must be given the same care as others born prematurely, doctors will hear next week.

The issue will be discussed at the British Medical Association's annual conference in Llandudno.

Doctors will tell the conference they are aware of cases where babies survived the chemical injections which were supposed to terminate pregnancies.

The BMA said all babies should be given the same care, however they are born.

When a very premature baby is born, doctors make a very careful assessment as to how much they can do to save that baby
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, British Medical Association
Doctors who are raising the issue say, though rare, there are cases where babies are born after surviving terminations at around 23 weeks.

This is an age at which babies can survive with care in special care units.

But they claim that, in some cases, babies do not receive the care they would get if they were born prematurely at the same age.

Abortions carried out later in pregnancy usually involve a chemical being injected into the baby's heart which causes it to stop while in the womb.

But, even after doctors check using ultrasound that the heart has stopped, those bringing the motion said it was possible it might start beating again and the baby would be born alive.

'Rare event'

Some of these babies have birth defects which are so severe that they have little chance of long-term survival, but others could be treated.

Bryony Dunning-Davis, one of those putting forward the motion next week, told BBC News Online: "I do believe that it is rare that abortions go wrong and, if they do, that this is always what happens.

"But it seems there have been cases where it has happened, even though it's against existing guidelines."

She said she had heard of around half a dozen cases in recent years where babies had survived abortions.

In 1996, a child thought to have a severe abnormality was born healthy, but was not resuscitated when it stopped breathing. The coroner ruled the baby had died after a legal termination.

Miss Dunning-Davis, who is anti-abortion, added: "In another case, a baby was left to die in a sluice-room, even though it was born with a heart-beat and was breathing."

She added: "The guidance is OK, but it doesn't seem to be preventing these cases happening. That suggests they aren't enough.

"These babies should go to neonatal intensive care units , and doctors there should not be allowed to know if a baby was born after an abortion, so there is no chance of prejudice,"

'Careful assessment'

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said there was no evidence to suggest that babies surviving abortions was a common occurrence, with only a small number of cases highlighted in the last 20 years.

"When a very premature baby is born, doctors make a very careful assessment as to how much they can do to save that baby.

"There are times when the disabilities are so severe that they find they cannot do anything to treat them."

She said that very late terminations were extremely rare and mostly carried out because of very severe disabilities and abnormalities which would leave the child in severe suffering and perhaps lead to an early death.

"Nobody wants to see babies die and nobody wants to see babies suffering, but suffering can also come from very aggressive treatment if that treatment is not having any effect."

She said BMA leaders would listen to the debate and consider if the existing guidelines need to be more widely publicised, or added to.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives said: "There are guidelines to prevent the live birth of babies following late abortions.

"However, should the baby be born alive, it must receive the necessary life support, as would any other baby born at such an early gestation."

Nuala Scarisbrick, trustee of prolife charity Life, said, 'We have known for years that this dreadful practice goes on in NHS hospitals, often in units where there are full facilities for care of premature babies.

"The BMA should instruct its members at their conference next week that all babies born alive after abortion should be resuscitated and given truly loving care."

Abortions are legal in Britain up to nine months if doctors decide that the baby has a severe disability.

Terminations for "social" reasons - which take into account the effect of the pregnancy on the mental health of the woman - are also allowed up to 24 weeks.

Abortion 'should be made easier'
10 Dec 03  |  Health
Q&A: Late abortions
01 Dec 03  |  Health

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