Should Child Born Alive ‘Get All Available Medical Care for Survival?’ Abortion Researcher: Not Necessarily

Lauretta Brown | March 15, 2016 | 6:22pm EDT
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Dr. Diana Greene Foster, director of research for the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California San Francisco. (Photo: UCSF)

( – An associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology testifying before a Senate hearing Tuesday disagreed with a GOP senator’s contention that “a child born alive should get all available medical care for survival.”

Instead, Dr. Diana Greene Foster of the University of California San Francisco said in response to questioning by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that “doctors and nurses and women themselves know best whether care would lead to survival.”

Foster, a director of research for the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health project at UCSF, was appearing at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Late-Term Abortion: Protecting Babies Born Alive and Capable of Feeling Pain.”

A panel of expert witnesses discussed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), which would ban abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy; and the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), which would require health care practitioners to provide medical treatment to a child born alive in their presence after an abortion attempt.

“Just to be clear,” said Vitter. “Nobody disagrees that a child born alive should get all available medical care for survival?”

“I do disagree,” Foster replied. “I can imagine situations where the doctors and nurses have decided that there’s not a point in medical intervention. And by whisking the baby away [to attempt treatment], you’ve taken away a woman’s chance to hold her child and say goodbye.”

“Okay, so if there is care available towards survival, you think that in some cases that care should be denied?” Vitter asked.

“I think that the law says that all– that the child has to be taken away and receive medical care if there are signs of life – which doesn’t allow for the physician or nurse, or more importantly the wishes of the family, to say that they don’t think that care is going to help in this case and that they want to be able to hold their child,” Foster said.

“And if the care could lead to survival, do you think that should be able to be denied?” Vitter asked again.

“I think that doctors and nurses and women themselves know best whether care would lead to survival,” Foster concluded. “This bill doesn’t allow that judgment to be made.”

Another expert witness, a retired gynecologist and former abortion doctor Kathi Aultman, disagreed with Foster.

“The worst complication for an abortionist is to have the baby born alive, and I do not feel that the abortionist has the best interests of that child at stake and the mother may not either,” Aultman said.

“The bill is not saying that you must give that baby extraordinary care,” she continued. “They’re just saying you have to give them the same care you would give any other baby at that gestation. And at that gestational age they do need to be where they can get the best help, and the mother can go with them.”

Vitter also asked the panel whether anyone disagreed that an unborn child at 22 weeks’ gestation “is capable of feeling pain.”

“I disagree,” said Jodi Magee, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “There is no medical evidence that shows that fetuses feel pain until the third trimester.”

“Then why is it normal medical practice to give a child at that age anesthesia?” Vitter asked.

“I’m not a doctor so I can’t speak clinically,” Magee replied, “but I know of the medical evidence that’s in the literature today, and there is no evidence that suggests that fetal pain exists until the third trimester.”

“And you have no opinion about why in that case such a child is given anesthesia?” Vitter asked again.

“I cannot speak to the clinical question, I’m sorry.” Magee replied.

Angelina Baglini Nguyen, an associate scholar at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, weighed in: “The majority of scientific evidence that’s out there in reports show that children, by at least 20 weeks, do respond to pain and have pain stimuli in place.”

“There is one report of the many hundreds of reports on fetal pain and fetal science – the JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] report – which may be [what] the minority witnesses are referring to, that says one, you know, developmental stage that hasn’t been in place for a child in the third trimester is what’s required for pain,” she added.

“But the majority of scientific evidence is heavily favored in the direction that a child by at least 20 weeks – and usually before 20 weeks – is able to perceive and feel pain,” Nguyen said.

“I would definitely agree with that and that’s why anesthesiologists and surgeons and neonatologists use pain medication, because it’s supported by the literature completely,” added panelist Dr. Colleen A. Malloy, an assistant professor in Pediatrics-Neonatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

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