The boy’s mother changed her mind about wanting the child after she felt him move in her womb for the first time.
It happened as she headed home from a clinic that had just given her a series of drugs to end the baby’s life.Doctors at Hope Hospital, Salford, believe the infant – born 24 weeks into the pregnancy – to be the most premature baby to survive abortion in the long-term. “It has defeated all the odds,” said Dr Paul Clarke, until recently a member of the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Doctors tried three or four different abortive drugs.
The boy’s mother was 24 when she went for an ultrasound and was told she was just over 22 weeks pregnant.
The woman – who was single and had a 19-month-old infant – opted for an abortion because she felt unable to cope with another child. She was admitted to a private clinic five days later and was given four different drugs over two days. She was told the foetus was dead and to come back in four days to have it removed. But on the train journey home she felt it move and immediately changed her mind. She went into labour that afternoon and was admitted to hospital, where she asked doctors to do everything they could to save the child. Four days later her baby was born, weighing just 1.5lb, but crying and breathing.
“She had guilt stemming from the fact she knew if she had not gone through with the procedure it would not have been born prematurely,” said Dor Clarke, one of four current and former doctors at Hope Hospital who have published a report on the case in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
The baby, born in November 2002, needed ventilation for 53 days and suffered life-threatening blood infections and chronic lung disease. But he was allowed home at seven months and at 10 months had only “mildly” delayed development.
Dr Mike Robinson, co-author of the report and lead clinician at the intensive care unit, said the case raised “serious ethical issues”. “Foetuses don’t have rights in law, but once born you have to look at the child in terms of what is in their best interest,” he said. “In this case the mother wanted the child. But when a woman goes to have a termination she should be aware that, while the pregnancy will end, the life of the baby may not.”
Abortion is currently legal in Britain up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. There were 181,600 abortions in England and Wales in 2003, the highest on record and up 3.2 per cent on the previous year.
A survey published in 2001 suggested the chance of a child surviving without disability was 12.5 per cent at 23 weeks gestation and 39 per cent at 24 weeks.
Julia Millington, political director of the ProLife Alliance, said: “One can only praise this woman for the courage she showed in having the baby in what was a very difficult situation. The public is becoming increasingly aware of what exactly we are permitting when babies are aborted at 22, 23 or 24 weeks when they could survive.”
Around two per cent of abortions in England and Wales are performed at or later than 20 weeks. The number born alive is not known. One study showed around three-quarters of women who booked for abortion after 18 weeks gestation later changed their mind.
The report’s authors claimed private clinics did not have the staff or equipment to resuscitate aborted babies and may be more inclined to overlook signs of life.