Currently, 42 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy. 1 That point is usually determined by “fetal viability,” or the age at which a fetus is able to survive outside of the womb. In New York State, abortions are prohibited after 24 weeks gestation; however, a new study by The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)2 found that with medical intervention, a healthy fetus is viable at 22 weeks.
The NEJM reviewed almost 5,000 premature births ranging from 22 to 24 weeks gestation and found that with immediate medical care, 22-week-old babies can and do survive. However, of the 24 hospitals who participated in the study, only 22% provided lifesaving treatment to babies at 22 weeks, compared to 72% and 97% at 23 and 24 weeks respectively. Perhaps New York laws on standard fetal viability need to be adjusted to reflect the improved pre-term lifesaving technology.
Dr. Edward Bell, a pediatrics professor at the University of Iowa, considers 22 weeks a new marker for viability. In an interview with the New York Times4, Dr. Bell sated, “we would say that these babies deserve a chance.”
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1 Guttmacher Institute. (May 1, 2015). State Policies in Brief: An Overview of Abortion Laws.
2 Rysavy, M., Li, L., Bell, E., Das, A., Hintz, S., Stoll, B., Vohr, B., Carlo, W., Shankaran, S., Walsh, M., Tyson, J., Cotten, C.M., Smith, P.B., Murray, J., Colaizy, T., Brumbaugh, J., Higgins, R. Clomid (May 7, 2015). Between-Hospital Variation in Treatment and Outcomes in Extremely Preterm Infants. The New England Journal of Medicine.
3 Public Health Article 41 – VITAL STATISTICS. Title 5-A § 4164 (2012) INDUCED VIABLE BIRTHS. Retrieved from http://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2013/pbh/article-41/title-5-a/4164/.
4 Belluck, P. (May 6, 2015). Premature Babies May Survive at 22 Weeks if Treated, Study Finds. The New York Times.