TIME Health Care

How a New Study on Premature Babies Could Influence the Abortion Debate

Pro-life advocates say the research supports their arguments

A new study showing that a tiny percentage of extremely premature babies born at 22 weeks can survive with extensive medical intervention could change the national conversation about abortion, though the research is unlikely to have a major effect on women’s access to abortions in the short term.

Anti-abortion advocates said the study—which was published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday and found that 3.5% percent of 357 infants born at 22 weeks could survive without severe health problems if hospitals treated them—could benefit the anti-abortion movement by sparking discussion about the viability of premature babies.

“Some people are strongly committed to pro-life, some are strongly committed to the other side,” but many fall somewhere in the middle, said Burke Balch, director of the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics for the National Right to Life Committee, the non-profit advocacy organization. “The fact that those children could survive will affect those in the middle.”

The anti-abortion movement has tried to shift attention away from women who seek abortions—as in, debates on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest—and instead focus on the unborn baby, using the argument that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks to justify state bans on abortion after that time. Some 13 states have banned abortion after 20 weeks, according to Naral Pro-Choice America, a non-profit advocacy organization. Other states, such as Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia have started debating such measures this year. The 20-week bans, Balch said, are partially designed to bring the focus back to the child—and the new data on premature babies will make that easier. “It strengthens the persuasiveness argument, even if it doesn’t impact the legal argument,” he said.

While anti-abortion advocates hope the study will shift public opinion, the fact that a small number of babies can survive at 22 weeks with extraordinary interventions will likely not have a large impact on a woman’s ability to get an abortion today, experts said.

The Supreme Court has held that states can restrict abortions if the fetus is viable—able to survive outside the womb—even if the mother’s health is not threatened by the pregnancy. But there is no strict legal definition of viability; instead, it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the individual doctor. While it is possible that the study could affect a doctor’s decision about the viability of a pregnancy, doctors would usually focus more on the details of the specific case. And few doctors and clinics offer abortions at such a late stage anyway, experts added.

“Viability has never been a set number,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the reproductive health non-profit. “It is determined by each doctor based on the woman and the pregnancy and it varies. That’s what the medical community has said and what Roe v. Wade says, and that’s unchanged by this study, which is about the extremely intensive care that is provided in some places.”

Though the new research has sparked discussion of abortion, its real relevance is for expectant parents researching the medical treatment available for premature babies, particularly those who may want to find out whether their hospital provides interventions to save babies at 22 weeks.

“I think it’s important information, especially for women excited about having a baby,” says Elizabeth Nash, an expert on state laws governing reproduction at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on reproductive health. “It’s much more tangential to abortion, except that abortion opponents will look to this information to try to restrict access, and that’s where we have to pay attention.”

TIME Research

Some Premature Babies Can Survive After Only 22 Weeks, Study Says

premature baby
Getty Images

Roughly 5,000 babies are born at 22 or 23 weeks in the U.S. each year

A new study has found that some premature babies can survive outside the womb with medical treatment as early as 22 weeks into pregnancy.

The study, published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises questions about treatment practices for premature babies while also adding a new layer to the abortion debate.

Hospitals vary in how they approach treatment for babies born before 24 weeks, widely viewed to be the minimum age of viability, the New York Times reports. But the study, which analyzed almost 5,000 babies born at between 22 and 27 weeks, found that a small number of babies born at 22 weeks could survive with treatment, some with long-term impairment. Those that were not treated died.

Each year, roughly 5,000 babies are born at 22 or 23 weeks in the US, according to the Times.

[NYT]

TIME Paraguay

Rights Group Urges Paraguay to Allow Abortion for 10-Year-Old Rape Victim

The girl was allegedly raped by her stepfather

(ASUNCION, Paraguay) — Amnesty International is calling on Paraguay’s government to allow a 10-year-old girl to get an abortion for the sake of her health.

Rosalia Vega, director of the international rights group in Asuncion, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the request had been made to the Health Ministry and Justice Department.

Authorities allege the girl was raped by her stepfather, who has fled. She was taken to a public hospital April 21 complaining of abdominal pains and found to be 22 weeks into the pregnancy.

Her mother’s request to abort the child was not granted. Abortion in the poor South American country is illegal.

Domestic abuse makes young pregnancies a big problem. According to health statistics, 680 Paraguayan girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth in 2014.

TIME Innovation

Why Read Hamlet When You Can Play It?

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Why read Hamlet when you can play an immersive time-traveling video game version instead?

By Jess Joho in Kill Screen

2. Here’s how to attract female engineers.

By Lina Nilsson in the New York Times

3. Everyone is losing in Yemen’s war.

By Adam Baron in Foreign Policy

4. Google and Facebook could save — or consume — journalism.

By Emily Bell in the Columbia Journalism Review

5. We know how to dramatically reduce teen pregnancies, but we don’t. Here’s why.

By Nora Caplan-Bricker in the National Journal

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Courts

Two Things You Don’t Know About Roe v. Wade That Will Surprise You

New Justices Rehnquist And Powell
Keystone / Getty Images The two new Associate Justices of the US Supreme Court after being sworn in, William Rehnquist (left) and Lewis F Powell, on Jan. 11, 1972

One of these two things changed American politics

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

January 22, 1973 is the date that most associate with Roe v. Wade. That is the day when Justice Harry Blackmun read a summary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe and that of its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. Every year there are demonstrations in Washington on January 22 to commemorate or protest the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing a woman’s right to an abortion.

But there is another date that actually might be far more significant in the history of these decisions: May 25, 1972. That is when these cases should have been decided, and likely were decided, but in a much different form. And if they had come down in May or June 1972, the arc of American politics would have been remarkably different. I argue as much in my new book, January 1973, Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month that Changed America Forever (release date May 1, 2015).

First, let me identify my source. Larry Hammond was Justice Lewis F. Powell’s law clerk at the time Roe and Doe were decided. Hammond, now in his seventies, agreed to talk with me about how the decisions came about and I believe I am the first to interview him with the full benefit of the Powell Papers that were released after Powell’s death in 1998.

Here are the two revelations from these interviews and the Powell Papers that will surprise most people: (1) the justices of the Supreme Court had reached a majority on versions of the opinions that Blackmun first drafted in May 1972—and these drafts would have left it to the states to draw the line as to when life begins; and (2) Justice Powell, not Justice Blackmun, pushed for the “viability” standard that remains the hallmark of Roe forty years later. While Blackmun may have been the author, Powell really was the moving force behind the core principle of Roe.

Let me explain further.

When Roe and its companion case out of Georgia were first argued in the Supreme Court in December 1971, the Court was down two justices. Justices Black and Harlan had both retired (and died) in the fall of 1971 and President Nixon had nominated Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist to take their places. Neither man had been confirmed by the Senate at the time of the first oral arguments in Roe and Doe, so by Court tradition neither could take part in “the Conference” to decide the cases, nor could they vote on the outcomes.

There did not appear to be a consensus at the time of the first Conference on how to decide the abortion cases, so Chief Justice Warren Burger took it upon himself to assign Justice Harry Blackmun, his friend from childhood, to take a stab at first drafts. If Blackmun’s drafts would “command a majority” then those would become the Court’s decisions. Justice William O. Douglas disputed Burger’s assignment to Blackmun and thought he had the right to make the assignment as the most senior judge who, he believed, was in the majority out of the first conference. Douglas, however, let it go after an exchange of some fairly heated notes with the Chief.

Blackmun took his time in drafting. As former counsel to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, his perspective was that of the doctor whose patient seeks an abortion. He wanted to study up on the history of abortion, with a kind of obsessive focus on the Hippocratic Oath (which actually has a proscription against abortions).

Blackmun’s first drafts of Roe and Doe came out in May 1972.

With Roe, Blackmun wanted to overturn the Texas statute as void for vagueness, meaning it was too imprecise to be enforceable. The result would be to turn it back to Texas to redraft a clear statute. On Doe, the more reform Georgia statute from 1968, Blackmun addressed squarely a woman’s right to an abortion. He found there was such a right, but critically, he observed that the Court, at that moment in time, did not have the experience or knowledge to decide “when life begins.”

Thus, given these outcomes, the Supreme Court would have recognized a right to an abortion, but left it to state legislatures to do the line-drawing on when an abortion could be prohibited.

Justice Douglas, for one, believed that a majority of the seven justices who could decide the cases was in place in May 1972. Specifically, on May 25, 1972, Douglas, Brennan, Marshall and Blackmun (4 of 7) all agreed on Blackmun’s drafts. Justice Stewart added his vote in favor by May 29, 1972. (From my perspective, it is fascinating that this all took place just as burglars were first breaking into the Watergate in their political espionage campaign against the Democrats.)

Enter Chief Justice Burger. He was not pleased with the first drafts and pressed Blackmun to “re-argue” the cases, allowing two conservatives, Powell and Rehnquist, to take part. Douglas and the others in the majority exploded—they believed the decisions should have come down and that Burger was playing politics with a partisan issue likely to have some role in the 1972 presidential contest. Douglas’s dissent to re-argument was vitriolic—and never saw the light of day. With Powell and Rehnquist participating, the vote to re-argue carried.

This is when Justice Powell asked his law clerk, Larry Hammond, to take a look at the briefs in Roe and Doe and Justice Blackmun’s first drafts. Hammond did so over the summer of 1972 (as Richard Nixon became mired in the Watergate cover-up). Hammond wrote a 30-page memo for Powell, arguing in favor of the right to an abortion. Powell, when he returned from the summer break, told Hammond that he agreed with him. This was a real surprise. Chief Justice Burger’s push to re-argue was about to backfire.

As the second oral argument drew near in October 1972, Hammond wrote a game-changing bench memo to Powell, pointing out a recent federal court case out of a lower court in Connecticut that had address that state’s abortion statute. In what lawyer’s call dicta (meaning not critical to the opinion), the Connecticut judges argued that the critical line in any pregnancy was “viability,” that is, when the fetus could live outside the womb—roughly the end of the sixth month.

No one argued “viability” in the briefs or in oral argument. Yet it was Powell who gently suggested to Blackmun that the Court consider and accept “viability” as its important dividing line. The Court adopted a three-part test, according to the trimesters of a nine-month pregnancy, but decided that the rights of a fetus were not to be considered until viability. While the other parts of Roe have dissolved, “viability” remains the law today.

I argue in my new book that this controversial change in how the case was decided had a dramatic impact on American politics. The Roe decision activated the so-called Religious Right. But more importantly, because abortion is an issue about which many will not compromise—it is a life and death decision to some—the whole concept of “no compromise” as a political strategy entered our political bloodstream. Along with the other great events of January 1973—Truman’s death, end of the Vietnam War for the US, Watergate burglars’ trial, Nixon’s Second Inaugural, Roe and the death of Lyndon Johnson (on the same day as Roe)—the conditions set up for a government of deadlock.

Checks and balances have become checks.

Obviously history is never quite this clean, but I think it is an important time to look back at this momentous month to start to understand how we got to where we are and perhaps learn how we might all start to get along again for the sake of our democracy and our country. Understanding Roe v. Wade and how it was actually decided is a first step.

James Robenalt is a trial lawyer and author of “The Harding Affair, Love and Espionage During the Great War” (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2009). Robenalt lectures nationally with John W. Dean, former White House Counsel, on Watergate and legal ethics. His latest book is “January 1973: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month That Changed America Forever.

TIME Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina Outlines New GOP Strategy to Talk About Abortion

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor Carly Fiorina speaking at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2015.

Carly Fiorina laid out the new Republican strategy for talking about abortion at an event in Washington Thursday.

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and likely Republican presidential candidate explained how she discusses the issue with female voters, many of whom she said are initially “uncomfortable” with the GOP’s pro-life stance.

Her answer, she says, is always to ask them whether or not they’ve read the Democratic platform on the issue.

“I remind them that it says any abortion, any time, at any point in a woman’s pregnancy for any reason to be paid for by taxpayers and now, some would like to add, to be performed by a non-doctor,” Fiorina said. “A policy succinctly summarized by (Sen.) Barbara Boxer as, ‘It’s not a life until it leaves the hospital.’ How do you feel about this? Women are horrified by that.”

The 2012 Democratic national platform says that it “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.” The Boxer quote, often cited by pro-life activists, comes from a 1999 colloquy on the Senate floor which the California Democrat has said is taken out of context.

Fiorina’s roadmap on the issue tracks other Republican comments. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who recently launched his campaign for the GOP nomination, took a similar tack when answering a question about abortion on the campaign trail.

“You go back and go ask (Democratic National Committee head) Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she’s OK with killing a 7-pound baby that’s just not born yet,” he told a reporter with the Associated Press. “Ask her when life begins, and ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, come back to me.”

Fiorina said that bringing the Democrats into discussions about abortion is a crucial way to make people who may have been skeptical more receptive to the Republican message.

“I don’t expect everyone to agree with my position on everything,” she said. “But I do think when you start to have a conversation in that way and lay out things that maybe people haven’t thought of before, then it is easier to find common ground.”

TIME health

Watch Jemima Kirke Explain Why She Refused Anesthesia During Her Abortion

She couldn't afford the extra cost

Girls actress Jemima Kirke is opening up about an abortion she got during college.

In a new PSA for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Kirke says she became pregnant with her boyfriend’s child while at college in Providence, R.I. “My life was just not conducive to raising a healthy, happy child,” she says. “I just didn’t feel it was fair.”

Even though her family is well off (her father is former Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke, and her mother is fashion designer Lorraine Kirke), she didn’t want to tell her parents about the pregnancy, so she had to pay for the abortion herself. She scraped together the money with her boyfriend, but they didn’t have enough for anesthesia, so she got the abortion without it. “The anesthesia wasn’t that much more, but when you’re scrounging for however many hundreds of dollars, it is a lot. I just didn’t have it.”

Kirke presents her story as an example of the various obstacles that are put in women’s way when it comes to making reproductive choices. “We think we do have free choice, and we are able to do whatever we want, but then there are these little hoops we have to jump through to get them,” she says.

The actress and painter said she talks about her story in order to reduce the stigma surrounding reproductive choices, and because she wants to protect reproductive rights for her two young daughters. “I would love if when they’re older, and they’re in their teens or their 20s, if the political issues surrounding their bodies were not there anymore,” she said, adding that settling the debate about reproductive rights would give them “one less thing to battle.”

TIME reproductive rights

Ohio State Rep: Why I Spoke Out About My Rape and Abortion

Teresa Fedor is a Democratic member of the Ohio House of Representatives.

Ohio state representative Teresa Fedor on the shattering incident that compelled her to fight for a woman's right to choose, and against the "Heartbeat Bill"

As an Ohio legislator, I have witnessed for nearly 15 years legislation introduced that intends to marginalize or completely eliminate a woman’s reproductive rights. The most recent and arguably worst offender is House Bill 69, termed Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” which would ban an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. This bill allows no exceptions for victims of incest or rape, but only ones when a mother’s life is endangered or when she is at risk of serious physical impairment. This means a woman undergoing or physician performing an abortion could be charged with a fifth-degree felony.

Last week, I again found myself enduring the arguments by those in support of House Bill 69. As one legislator after another spoke and gave no reason for excluding victims of incest or rape as exceptions, I felt the overwhelming need to voice my opinion regarding the potential impact of such inhumane legislation. I could no longer be silent.

As I was recognized to speak in the debate on the bill, which passed the House, my frustration was at its peak. At the core of my opposition lay a very personal story but one that I would have to disclose in order to underscore the seriousness of leaving out these exceptions. In one moment, without having planned to speak out beforehand, I made it known that over 35 years ago, I had been a victim of rape and underwent an abortion while serving in the military. Because this happened to me at such a young age, I refused to let this victimization define who I was going to be. More important, I was thankful I had the freedom to make this decision — back then. Unfortunately, it is this freedom that could be stripped from women today.

As the words poured out of me, I proclaimed, “You don’t respect my reason, my rape, my abortion, and I guarantee you there are other women who should stand up with me and be courageous enough to speak that voice. What you’re doing is so fundamentally inhuman, unconstitutional, and I’ve sat here too long. I dare any one of you to judge me, because there’s only one judge I’m going to face.

I dare you to walk in my shoes. This debate is purely political. I understand your story, but you don’t understand mine. I’m grateful for that freedom. It is a personal decision, and how dare government get into my business.”

As a young victim, I made a decision not to carry my pregnancy to full-term. I also know that many women who’ve been victimized by rape make a different decision and carry their pregnancies to full-term. There is no right or wrong answer, and I respect either decision. But it is a personal freedom that should be determined only by the woman whose life it impacts, not by the government.

As an elected official and public servant, I continue to stay true to what I believe is the right thing to do. For nearly a decade, I tirelessly promoted legislation to protect Ohio’s most vulnerable against the scourge of human trafficking. I am proud to have authored Ohio’s first of several anti-human-trafficking bills, setting a precedent throughout our state and country. Comparable to the abortion debate, this issue was widely misunderstood, and others ridiculed or minimized what I fought for.

Sadly, over the past four years, state governments have enacted 231 laws limiting access to abortion, with 26 new laws being passed in 2014, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. Over the years I have felt that the escalating war on our reproductive freedom will require more voices speaking out at the risk of judgment and stigma in our culture. However horrific the circumstances, I was proud to speak truth to that power.

Fedor represents Ohio’s 45th district in the state’s house of representatives.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Congress

How a Human Trafficking Bill Became a Debate About Abortion

Sen. John Cornyn
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.

Language to block funding for abortions has Democrats ready to filibuster

In February, the leading anti-trafficking organization Polaris praised the Senate for taking up their cause. On Wednesday, the group’s tone had changed dramatically, as it was now urging that same group of lawmakers to pass the same bill.

What happened? Two words: Abortion politics.

Until Tuesday, the bill was set to easily pass the Senate with bipartisan support. Now, it’s in jeopardy due to the inclusion of language that would limit women’s access to abortions.

“The bipartisan support to address modern slavery should not be held up by a separate debate on partisan issues,” said Brandon Bouchard, a spokesperson for Polaris.

The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, another anti-trafficking advocacy group, expressed similar sentiment: “We urge all members of the Senate to turn away from this divisive debate and find a bipartisan approach to this new initiative to protect and serve the needs of survivors,” it said in a statement.

Introduced by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas in January, the Justice for Victims in Trafficking Act would establish a fund for victims using fines collected for trafficking crimes. Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with ease in late February. And on Monday, Senators seemed excited to move forward on the legislation.

That changed Tuesday, when Democrats cried foul over language in the bill they say was slipped in under the radar that would restrict the use of any funds collected from the trafficking punishment for abortions. Democrats say the abortion restrictions were not included in a list of changes to the bill that was circulated when it was introduced. Because of that, Democrats said they were unaware of any such provision when they decided to support it. Plus, they say adding it to this legislation goes too far.

Cornyn, however, says that doesn’t make sense. “I don’t believe for a minute they would have missed a reference in this legislation to a restriction on spending on funding taxpayer-provided abortions,” he said in an impassioned floor speech on Tuesday. “There are no shrinking violets in the United States Senate.”

Cornyn also said when he offered Democrats the option of offering an amendment they rejected it. “When we offered them an opportunity to offer an amendment to change that, they said: ‘No, we don’t want an amendment. We don’t want to change it by a vote of the Senate. We just want to block the bill,’” Cornyn said Wednesday. “And that’s what, unless something changes between now and the time we vote on cloture on the bill, is going to happen. Because they don’t want to amend the bill.”

But Democrats gave Republicans two options on Wednesday: remove the language or risk having the bill blocked.

“This bill has been hijacked by an issue completely unrelated to human trafficking,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a floor speech on Wednesday. “I would suggest to the Majority, take it out.”

The whole ordeal is endemic of the partisan gridlock plaguing Washington, with both sides reluctant to cede any ground even though both agree on the fundamentals. Stuck in the middle of it all: the victims of trafficking and the organizations that were hoping greater protections and resources were on the horizon.

With reporting by Alex Rogers

 

TIME Venezuela

A 36-Pack of Condoms In Venezuela Now Costs $755 at Official Rates

Because of a near-defaulting economy, consumer goods such as condoms are scarce and hugely marked up

In Venezuela, a 36-pack of Trojan condoms now costs $755 at the official exchange rate. That’s the price being asked on the MercadoLibre website, where Venezuelans go to buy goods in short supply.

Compare that to a box in the U.S., which goes for $21.

The huge markup is due to the collapse in oil prices, which has had disastrous consequences in Venezuela, Bloomberg reports.

The South American country relies on crude-oil exports for 95% of its foreign-currency earnings and has seen a 60% fall in those exports over the past seven months.

As a result of the government’s policy of slashing imports to make up for the deficit, consumer goods have become scarce and expensive, and people are forced to queue for hours to get basic products such as meat, sugar, medicine and now contraceptives.

For those with access to American dollars, condoms can be bought on the black market for around $25. But this is only the lucky few.

The lack of access to contraceptives could deepen the country’s social problems. Venezuela has one of South America’s highest rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. Because abortion is illegal, the disappearance of condoms and other forms of birth control like the pill may force more women to clandestine abortion clinics, increasing the risk of maternal deaths.

[Bloomberg]

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com