A bill requiring physicians to treat infants who survive abortion attempts is moving through the Legislature without the usual partisan fight, though some lawmakers have questioned whether it addresses an ongoing problem.
An anti-abortion activist used a specific figure in a recent committee hearing to reassure lawmakers HB 1129/SB 1636 is necessary.
"The tragedy of infants born alive following attempted abortions is real," said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, on April 9. "It is not the hypothetical that is sometimes reported. In 2010 alone, 1,270 infants were reported to have died following attempted abortions and notably that is only one year."
Yoest said without elaborating there are two cases in Florida. After the meeting, reporters asked Yoest about the number she used. Yoest told them the figure came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the CDC, which collects data from most state health departments on the number of legal induced abortions performed each year, does not collect data on infants who die after surviving abortion attempts.
Neither does the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group that supports women’s access to abortions and collects abortion data. Neither Guttmacher nor the CDC has published its 2010 data for abortions.
"We have no idea where this number comes from," said Rebecca Wind, Guttmacher Institute spokeswoman.
A committee analysis says there is no federal requirement to report the number of infants born alive during an attempted abortions. So Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, included in his legislation a requirement for physicians who perform abortions in Florida to report cases of infants born alive to the state.
"If in two years time or four years time we find that there are zero cases, it’s a prayer answered," Pigman said at an April 4 committee hearing of his bill. "If we find in two years time that there’s a half dozen cases a year, then we have some issues."
If there are no statistics or reporting requirements, where did Americans United for Life find this figure? We dug in.
Twenty-eight states have laws protecting infants born alive. "Infants Born Alive" mirrors a federal law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Supporters say it is necessary to enact a state law so there is no doubt that an infant "born alive" -- defined as an infant who breathes or has heartbeats or muscle movements, regardless of whether the extraction method was natural or induced -- must be taken to a hospital for treatment appropriate for gestation age.
A failed abortion could result in a live birth in a late-term abortion, which can only be performed if two physicians agree the mother's life is at risk, or if the mother was further into her pregnancy than thought. Physicians under the Florida proposal would have to provide medical care for an infant born alive after an abortion or face a first-degree misdemeanor charge.
Pigman, an emergency physician, has referenced similar or exact figures as Yoest in committee hearings, but he characterized them differently and stressed the lack of exact data.
In the bill’s first hearing, Pigman mentioned CDC data on deaths for infants from 22 weeks of gestation to seven days after birth called "other perinatal conditions." This category -- which totaled 1,270 deaths in 2010 -- is further broken down into categories of international medical codes for causes of death, including cardiovascular disorders (838 deaths), digestive system disorders (92 deaths), undefined cerebral problems (183 deaths) and "other conditions originating in the perinatal period" (130 deaths).
"I don’t know which portion of that 1,270 were due to abortions or some other rare circumstances," Pigman said in the April 4 committee.
Inside that latter subcategory -- "other conditions originating in the perinatal period" -- is a designation called "termination of pregnancy, affecting fetus and newborn." The CDC doesn’t have numbers for that designation for 2010 yet.
In 2008, the CDC reported 33 deaths using that designation. Whether the abortion was elective or performed to save the life of the mother is unclear.
Americans United for Life spokeswoman Kristi Hamrick said any number is problematic because abortion data is always incomplete. California, for instance, is one of a few states that does not report the number of abortion procedures that happen there.
Hamrick directed us to a blog post written by the group's legal team about limited CDC data and anecdotal evidence of infants born alive, including two Florida cases of infants surviving abortion procedures (one died, one survived with catastrophic injuries) and the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. The post does not support Yoest's specific claim about 1,270 infants who die after abortion procedures, offering instead the more nuanced breakdown for the 1,270 figure that we heard from Pigman.
Yoest said 1,270 infants in 2010 "were reported to have died following attempted abortions."
The figure is based on an "other" category of perinatal deaths, but it does not mean what she says it means. Included in this category are babies who die of various other issues, mainly heart problems.
We rate her statement False.