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Fact Check: Looking At 'Born Alive' Scenario At Center Of NC Abortion Debate

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The North Carolina House Wednesday is scheduled to take up Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.” It would require doctors and nurses to provide care to babies born during failed abortions or face possible charges.   

The Senate voted to override the veto in April. So if the House follows suit, it becomes law.    

The bill has prompted competing claims from both sides. That’s why we are going to turn now to Paul Specht of the Raleigh News and Observer as part of our weekly fact check of North Carolina politics.

Marshall Terry: Governor Roy Cooper has said the scenario of babies being born alive during a failed abortion and then being left to die is a rare occurrence. Supporters of the bill have indicated that it's common. So who's right.

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Credit Paul Specht
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Paul Specht: Well, it depends on how you interpret the available data and the key words there are "available data." There's not much of it. In North Carolina, the powers that be don't track how often babies are born alive during the course of abortion. And so supporters of this bill say that that's part of the reason why it should pass so that they can track and force medical professionals to provide DHHS or the medical examiner with information on how often it happens.

Aside from that, there's only one comprehensive report that people point to and that was done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the CDC.

Terry: And what does it say?

Specht: They conducted a survey of available data through death certificates between 2003 and 2014. Through that period there were about 9 million abortion procedures done in the United States and in 143 cases an infant was born alive during an attempt to terminate the pregnancy. So that's what both sides point to. You'll hear supporters say, 'hey that's 143 cases where an infant was born alive. That's not insignificant.' But opponents of the bill will point out that that's virtually nonexistent. And that report does not provide information on whether the doctor did anything wrong, that the medical professional did anything wrong in those circumstances.

Terry: So what are you referring to there?

Specht: Well, this bill and others like it across the country are sort of the reaction to comments made by Virginia's governor... I don't remember the exact quote but people can go back and read it or listen to it for themselves.

But the fear is that if someone is going to get an abortion, that the infant is unwanted, and that if it's born any way a medical professional might just neglect it and let it die or even practice medically active killing which most medical professionals say is not practiced at all. But that doesn't dissuade fears. People want to protect life where they can.

Terry: As you mentioned earlier there's not a lot of data out there on this and that basically the CDC report is the most comprehensive set of data. Why is that?

Specht: Well, it's already illegal. It is illegal to let any person or any infant die once it is exposed to the world and becomes a person, it has rights. That's what constitutional law experts told us in a previous fact check. And so if someone is allowing a viable infant to die after it's been born then they're likely already breaking the law which disincentivizes them from reporting those cases.

Terry: Usually at this point. We ask you how you rated this claim but you actually didn't do a reading this time. Why is that?

Specht:In this case, We want people to read the evidence for themselves. As you mentioned there's not much information available on how often infants are born alive and then neglected to death. There's some famous cases such as Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. And there's also a case in Florida where a woman gave birth and her baby was born alive and then was neglected and died. So there are two cases where this specific scenario has happened but otherwise data is hard to come by. And so we want people to read this fact check story, if you will, and come to their own decision on whether or not they think this legislation is necessary.

Terry: Finally, Paul you cover the State House. Is it looking like the House will complete the veto override later today?

Specht: I spoke with the governor on Tuesday and asked him what he expects and he says he believes the veto will be upheld. Republicans would need depending on attendance five to seven Democrats to vote with them in order to override the governor's veto. And at this point I don't expect that to happen. But I could be wrong. So we'll just have to wait and see.

Paul Specht will be joining WFAE’s Morning Edition every Wednesday to Fact Check North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.