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New standard of viability? Many babies born at 22 weeks can survive with treatment, study finds

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May 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The age of fetal viability may be revised downward, as a new study has found that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks will survive if they receive life-saving treatment.

Nearly one out of every four babies born at that early date was able to live after receiving medical treatment, according to a study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Five percent of babies born at 22 weeks survived without any outside assistance, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In all, 18 of the 78 babies born at 22 weeks survived after being given treatment. Researchers found that 39 percent of these babies survived without even moderate impairments. Six of the survivors suffered from serious complications such as hearing loss, blindness, or cerebral palsy.

The rate improved for babies born at 23 weeks gestation: About one-third of those babies survived, half with no serious complications.

About 5,000 of the 18,000 babies born at a very premature age are born at 22 or 23 weeks of pregnancy.

“It confirms that if you don’t do anything, these babies will not make it, and if you do something, some of them will make it,” said Dr. David Burchfield, the University of Florida's chief of neonatology, who did not take part in the study.

“The study’s finding could herald a seachange in the way abortion is viewed in the U.S.,” according to Newsweek magazine, because the “right” to abortion is strictly tied to the presumptive age of fetal viability.

The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the Constitution had an implicit right to privacy, which included the right for women to obtain an abortion. However, after an unborn baby is viable on his or her own, states could place greater restrictions on the procedure.

The 1973 ruling defined viability at 28 weeks. Keeping up with trends in science, 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey revised that to 24 weeks.

As doctors are able to preserve life at an earlier and earlier stage, the age of viability has continued to plunge, a trend this study confirmed.

University of Iowa pediatrics professor Dr. Edward Bell told the New York Times that 22 weeks is the new age of viability, as far as he is concerned.

As the age of viability creeps downward, states could begin imposing greater pro-life protections for the unborn.

The new report found that no child born before 21 weeks survived, whether or not the baby received medical treatment.

Ten states currently have laws on the books barring abortion after 20 weeks, and the House of Representatives has contemplated passing a national ban on the practice. However, proponents of that limit are not arguing that a child could survive outside the womb but are instead asking the Supreme Court to recognize “a separate and independent compelling state interest in unborn human life that exists once the unborn child is capable of feeling pain,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., the director of state legislation at the National Right to Life Committee.

That legal strategy has led academics who support abortion-on-demand, such as American University political science professor Karen O'Connor, to speculate that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

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A summary of the new study on the viability of premature babies at 22 weeks, entitled “Between-Hospital Variation in Treatment and Outcomes in Extremely Preterm Infants,” can be read here.

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