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Medical experts question Kansas lawmaker’s anti-abortion testimony for ‘born alive’ law


Medical experts question Kansas lawmaker’s anti-abortion testimony for ‘born alive’ law

Sep 12, 2023 | 9:59 am ET
By Katelynn Donnelly
Medical experts question Kansas lawmaker’s anti-abortion testimony for ‘born alive’ law
Rep. Ron Bryce says he doesn’t know of any cases of infants surviving abortions in Kansas. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

A Republican lawmaker’s misleading narratives before a Kansas House hearing this spring supported a state law prohibiting physicians from euthanizing infants who survive abortions — despite medical experts’ assertion that the scenario is a non-existent scare tactic.

The lawmaker, Rep. Ron Bryce, acknowledges he had little first-hand evidence for the claims he repeated on and off the House floor. He speculated that abortion providers murder infants, and his testimony appeared to be based on unreliable data.

“Abortion takes the life of a child, but what if the baby is too tough to die quickly?” Bryce said in testimony during a committee hearing. “What are the options for the abortion provider? … Actively kill the baby.”

Responding to questions for this story, Bryce said in an email he doesn’t know of any cases of infants surviving abortions in Kansas.

The bill, the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, passed the Senate 31-9 and cleared the House 86-36. Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly, who described the bill as “misleading and unnecessary,” vetoed the proposal, but her veto was overridden by a two-thirds majority in the Legislature. The bill became law July 1.

Anti-abortion legislators “are using misinformation to scare people and to stigmatize abortion further,” said Debra Stulberg, a Chicago family medicine physician and co-founder of the Midwest Access Project. “That is their weapon in a policy situation in which the people of the state have spoken, but the legislators don’t agree or don’t like it. They would like to ban abortion, but they’re working around that by using their policy powers to put out lies to the public.”

Supporters of the bill say it made little difference whether Bryce’s testimony was true. Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana, said in an email that he always intended to vote in favor of the bill.

“I always vote to restrict abortion and save the innocent life that an abortion ends,” Peck said. “Therefore, since protecting innocent life is one of my core beliefs, no matter what any person says for or against my belief, I will be on the pro-life side.”

The falsehood that infants often survive abortions is nothing new.

During his presidency, George W. Bush signed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002. The federal law declares infants persons with federal protections against murder. The difference between the federal law and the recently passed state law is that now, if any health care provider in Kansas is aware of someone not giving lifesaving measures to an infant and does not report, they could be charged with a felony.

Even in 2002, however, critics deemed abortion survival to be a nonissue.

Bryce, a Republican from Coffeyville, received his degree in family medicine and later worked as the associate director for primary care at Louisiana State University School of Medicine. Bryce served for six years on the Texas Medical Board before being elected as a representative earlier this year.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for doctors to be giving out information that’s against medical advice, against evidence, against science,” said Kristyn Brandi, a New Jersey OB-GYN and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists fellow. “That’s really dangerous if doctors are lying to their constituents and using their doctor title as a way to gain credibility.”

His statements are considered by some medical experts as not only being faulty but harmful to women seeking emergency or elective abortions, to health care providers and to the gynecology field as a whole.

“When (legislators) say ‘born alive,’ it creates this connotation that there’s something that’s done insensitively and that there’s an intent of murder afterward, which is not at all what happens in this scenario,” Brandi said.

The first issue with Bryce’s claims is the implication that infants who are physically able to survive outside of the womb are being aborted. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, it is extremely rare for a fetus to survive outside of the womb before they reach 25 weeks gestation. Abortions past 22 weeks are illegal in Kansas, outside of medical emergencies, which rarely occur.

“By one account, there is over 85,000 babies born alive after abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973. … I think we owe it to these people to let them know that their lives are worth protecting,” Bryce said on the House floor.

In the email, Bryce said the 85,000 statistic was produced by a anti-abortion advocacy group called the Abortion Survivors Network, by extrapolating Canadian data and multiplying it by the annual number of abortions in the U.S. Bryce took the number, then multiplied by 50 for the half-century since Roe v. Wade.

Bryce repeated on Facebook, on a podcast and during his testimony that doctors have three options when they deliver an infant that survived an abortion: take care of the baby, let it die of prematurity or to actively kill it.

Bryce admitted in the email that he doesn’t personally know of any doctors who have actively killed infants who survived abortions.

“They’re describing a doctor of death,” Stulberg said. “That effort is stereotyping, stigmatizing and trying to invoke fear and disgust, and that is not a single abortion provider I know of. … I have trained in settings where lots of later gestation abortions have taken place, and (abortion survival) is not something that the doctors ever encountered or talked about what to do because it is a scenario made up to try to scare people.”

In some cases, when doctors find that fetuses are unable to survive outside of the womb, a decision is made on whether labor should be induced, which could be considered an emergency abortion. In such cases, palliative care, which is similar to hospice for infants, might allow the family time with the baby.

What could be considered “born alive babies” may be the result of these unexpected births, despite families’ wishes to carry pregnancies to full term, Stulberg said.

Increasingly, she said, the terms “born alive” and “failed abortion” are tactics used to demonize emergency medical abortions that happen later on in pregnancies.

“These are not decisions that women make lightly,” Stulberg said. “They’re thoughtful, they’re moral, ethical decisions. And if that person decides to end their pregnancy, then throwing misinformation at them, throwing fear tactics at them, is not helping anybody.”

The bill will make it a felony for doctors not to intervene, which Brandi fears will interfere with palliative care.

“If you’re talking about how often does (survival) happen in abortion, it doesn’t,” Brandi said. “There are zero numbers of that, but the circumstances where people are undergoing inductions to deliver for palliative care reasons, it’s something that exists, and we need the system to support those patients.”

Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat, pointed out on the House floor that if these scenarios play out in a hospital that lacks the necessary technology, the baby will be taken from its family and transported hours away in an ambulance to the closest hospital with an advanced neonatal intensive care unit, instead of allowing the family time with the baby.

“Why is that not considered cruel?” Ruiz said.