New York State’s Reproductive Health Act, signed into law in late January by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has been the source of much disagreement between supporters and opponents of the law, and has caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who criticized it during his State of the Union address.
Michael Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State, criticized the new law during an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis, saying it had gone "too far."
"They’ve removed all the criminal penalties from it," Long said. "A woman could give birth to a baby, and then, they have a discussion with the doctor, if the baby was born alive, they would just let the baby expire. It’s a very sad commentary."
We looked into Long’s claim that "if the baby was born alive, they would just let the baby expire."
In an interview, Long said he was sure the law didn’t spell out that babies would be left to die. But he said because the law allows abortions later in pregnancy, he questions what will happen to babies who are born alive.
Long referred us to Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities at the New York State Catholic Conference, for specifics.
Gallagher said the new law repeals part of the state’s Public Health Law. The repealed part states than in abortions after 20 weeks, a second doctor must be present to "take control of and provide immediate medical care for any live birth that is the result of the abortion." The repealed part also states: "Such child should be afforded immediate legal protection under the laws of the state of New York, including but not limited to applicable provisions of the social services law, article five of the civil rights law and the penal law."
A representative of National Right to Life, an organization that lobbies against abortion, also took note of the repealed sections of the Public Health Law. Jennifer Popik, director of federal legislation for the organization, wrote in an email that because New York’s law allows licensed medical professionals other than doctors to perform abortions, it’s possible that a person qualified to care for a baby would not be present if a baby was born alive.
Popik also referred us to data from the Centers for Disease Control from 2003-14. This data from selected states showed that there were 143 babies born alive after "induced terminations." That number could be underestimated, according to the CDC. The data does not reflect the full circumstances of their deaths, but researchers noted that in 97 of those cases, there were maternal health complications or one or more congenital anomalies.
We asked one of the new law’s sponsors, State Sen. Liz Krueger, if babies born alive during an abortion procedure would be left to "expire," as Long said.
Krueger’s spokesman, Justin Flagg, wrote in an email that "the RHA does not change standards of medical practice. Any baby born alive in New York State would be treated like any other live birth, and given appropriate medical care. This was the case before the RHA, and it remains the case now."
"A provider that inappropriately abandons or neglects a patient would violate professional misconduct laws and be subject to significant sanctions which include losing his/her medical license, fines, as well as potential civil and criminal liability," said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokeswoman for Cuomo. "The Reproductive Health Act does nothing to change that."
Federal law also protects infants in this situation. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 states that any person born alive under any circumstance has full rights as any other person.
Dr. Vanessa Barnabei, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, said that she understands how the law could lead some people to believe that babies who are born alive would be left to die, but said that’s not what happens in practice.
Pregnancies are sometimes terminated in order to save the life of the mother, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the baby won’t survive, Barnabei said. In her experience, the typical standard of care is to resuscitate infants born after 24 weeks, when they are considered viable, she said.
Abortions later in the second trimester or third trimester are complex and require highly trained practitioners. Because of this, they are typically done in hospitals, which employ other providers able to care for any baby born alive, she said. Babies who are delivered with severe problems would not be resuscitated, if that was the parents’ wishes, she said.
That standard of care for babies born alive when a pregnancy is terminated existed before the law was enacted, according to the bill’s sponsor.
Planned Parenthood of New York City put us in touch with one of its board members, Dr. Stephen Chasen, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Chasen said Long’s statement misrepresents what the RHA does and characterizes a situation that isn’t abortion.
"It’s about a model of hospice care that patients and their doctor have determined is the best course of action, using the best medicine available, and not pursuing something that’s futile," he said. "It’s not infanticide. It’s not indifference. And, it has nothing to do with abortion. It is hospice care, and hospice care can apply to a range of situations," he said.
Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, said that under the new law, babies born alive would be able to be left to "expire."
The state law repealed some protections for babies in these circumstances, but that part of the law was redundant, and under federal and state law, infants born alive are due the same medical care and protections as anyone else.
In cases where a hospice approach is taken to babies delivered very early in pregnancy or those with lethal malformations, this approach predates the new law, and it is an accepted standard of care.
We rate Long’s statement False.