Fox News Takes Premature Babies Research As An Anti-Abortion Argument, Because Of Course It Does

A study published this week found that a small number of very premature babies can survive earlier outside the womb than previously thought, and of course pro-life advocates are using the study to attack abortion rights. Fox News suggested that the medical standard of viability for fetuses be lowered to 22 weeks, which is a misinterpretation of the study, as Media Matters For America reports. The study found that a very small percentage of babies born at 22 weeks lived without long-term problems — but most babies passed away, or suffered wide-ranging health issues.

The Supreme Court has determined that states cannot ban abortion prior to fetal viability and, although the medical consensus is currently that viability typically happens at 24 weeks, the Supreme Court hasn't set 24 weeks as a definitive cut-off date, recognizing that it's different for every pregnancy. In Colautti v. Franklin, the court said that viability "is reached when, in the judgment of the attending physician on the particular case before him, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus' sustained survival outside the womb."

However, on Fox News' Happening Now Thursday, Jenna Lee suggested that the new study on premature babies would upset the Supreme Court's abortion rulings. Lee falsely said that Roe v. Wade set 28 weeks as the point of viability and that it was lowered to 24 weeks in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, making her wonder if it would now be lowered further to 22 weeks, according to Media Matters For America. Needless to say, a nationwide viability date that doesn't exist can't be lowered.

More troubling than Lee's misinterpretation of the law, though, is her misinterpretation of what this study's findings mean. The study will likely influence an ongoing discussion about when to offer medical attention to extremely premature babies, as hospitals vary widely in their approach to treating 22-week old infants, according to The Times. Looking at 24 hospitals, the study found that four never intervened for 22-week old babies, five always did, and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. The finding that a very small number of babies born at 22 weeks can survive when given the appropriate medical treatment should not impact reproductive rights laws.

The study examined 5,000 babies born between 22 and 27 weeks and found that those born at 22 weeks did not survive without medical attention. In 78 cases where the babies received active treatment, 18 survived. Seven of those that survived didn't have moderate or severe health problems by the time they were toddlers and six had severe problems, including cerebral palsy and blindness.

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