Lives Measured in Minutes

New legislation would offer greater care for premature newborns near death.

Jill Stanek was working the night shift in the labor and delivery ward at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, when she happened upon another nurse hurrying to the ward's soiled utility room. The nurse was carrying a tiny, preterm baby boy diagnosed with Down syndrome. The boy had just been aborted during a not uncommon procedure known as "induced-labor abortion," or "live-birth abortion," in which labor is induced and a prematurely born baby is left to die. According to Stanek, the infant was about 22 weeks old, 10 inches long, and weighed only half a pound.

According to hospital policy, infants who survive abortions are supposed to receive the "comfort care" of being wrapped in a blanket and either held or placed in a warmer for the remainder of their short lives.

In this case, however, the parents did not want to hold the child, and the nurse told Stanek she was too busy to care for him.

Unable to bear the thought of the baby dying alone in the utility room alongside dirty instruments, trash, and soiled laundry, Stanek held the child and rocked him until he died 45 minutes later.

According to Stanek, such live-birth abortions, which the hospital refers to as "medically indicated pregnancy terminations," are most often used when a developing baby has been diagnosed with lethal abnormalities or a nonfatal but debilitating condition such as Down syndrome or spina bifida. During the procedure, a drug is used to dilate a pregnant woman's cervix, leading to the delivery of a preterm baby.

Stanek says her boss told her the hospital uses this method of abortion because it is "more humane" than other midterm abortion procedures, which involve dismembering the fetus.

But because the majority of the babies born during live-birth abortions ...

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