Study: Premature babies can survive at 22 weeks

Study: Premature babies can survive at 22 weeks
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A new study finds that babies are sometimes able to survive when born at just 22 weeks, raising questions for the abortion debate.

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The study released Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that 5.1 percent of babies born at 22 weeks were able to survive, and 3.4 percent were able to survive without severe impairments.

Most of the variation between hospitals in survival rates is due to how heavily they decide to treat these premature babies. 

The finding is significant for the abortion debate, where the point of viability for a baby outside the womb is considered to be 24 weeks. This study could be a step in that point moving up to 22 weeks. 

Dr. Edward Bell, a University of Iowa professor who led the study, told The New York Times that he thinks 22 weeks is the new point of viability.

“That’s what we think, but this is a pretty controversial area,” he said. “I guess we would say that these babies deserve a chance.”

The point of viability is used by the Supreme Court in protecting the right to an abortion. The majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, upholding much of Roe v. Wade, recognized “the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State.”

And according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, 20 states ban abortions after viability, except in cases involving the life or health of the mother.

Ten states put the ban even earlier, at 20 weeks. However, those bans could be open to legal challenge. 

A 20-week abortion ban in Arizona was struck down by a federal court in 2013 for unconstitutionally violating the Supreme Court ruling protecting abortions up to the point of viability. 

Republicans in Congress also tried to pass a 20-week abortion ban but had to drop the effort in January after a revolt from female members and centrists.