President Trump signed an Executive Order on Friday directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that hospitals provide appropriate medical care and screening for premature babies.
Earlier this year, Life Legal briefed HHS on the practice of some hospitals to deny life sustaining care to children born prematurely and/or who have serious disabilities. We filed complaints with HHS on behalf of parents who had to watch their babies die because hospitals refused to provide medical treatment to their “micro-preemies,” that is babies born before 25 weeks gestation.
When Amanda Finnefrock went into early labor, she was promised that her twins would receive “full, aggressive treatment” as long as they were born after 22 weeks and 5 days. She delivered the babies after that time, but the hospital nevertheless refused to provide any assessment or intervention. Instead of transferring the babies to the neonatal intensive care unit, hospital nurses just sat by and watched as the babies gasp for breath. One twin struggled to breathe for 45 minutes. The second baby, born just minutes later, kicked and screamed for more than two and half hours before he died. Amanda begged the hospital staff to help, but they did nothing. All Amanda could do was tell her babies how sorry she was that she could not help them.
Life Legal informed HHS of recent studies demonstrating that a baby’s survivability does not depend only on reaching a specific gestational age, but on the medical care that is available and especially on the attitudes of physicians and hospitals regarding quality of life and disability. For example, Providence Women and Children’s Services of Oregon categorically denies medical care for babies before at 22 weeks or earlier, regardless of the parents’ wishes. Not surprisingly, its survival rate for those babies is 0%, whereas the survival rate for 22-week babies is as high as 60% in other hospitals. Our brief is available here.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that the HHS Office for Civil Rights is looking into the complaints we filed “to determine whether any additional civil rights violations occurred.”
The President’s Executive Order addresses many of the concerns we laid out in our brief and provides that every infant born alive—no matter the circumstances of his or her birth—has the right to non-discriminatory access to medical examination and services. This means babies born alive during abortion also have the right to medical screening and treatment.
The Order states that “the denial of such treatment, or discouragement of parents from seeking such treatment for their children, devalues the lives of these children and may violate Federal law.”
We are very grateful for the President’s response in this matter and we trust that HHS will work to ensure that all children born prematurely, including disabled infants and babies born alive during abortion, will receive timely medical intervention.