Fact Check: Looking At False Claims Around 'Born Alive' Abortion Bill

Apr 24, 2019

On this week's fact check of North Carolina politics, we're looking at a bill that would penalize doctors and nurses who don't provide care to babies born during failed abortions. It's called the "Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act."

It passed the General Assembly last week and Gov. Roy Cooper quickly vetoed it. The bill now goes back to the General Assembly where lawmakers will attempt to override the veto.

The bill has sparked a lot of claims from both sides. The News & Observer's Paul Specht joined WFAE's Marshall Terry to analyze help rate the truthfulness of the claims.

Marshall Terry: Paul, WRAL reported last week that one of the bill's sponsors — Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec — said on the Senate floor that we do not have laws in place protecting babies who were born alive as the result of an abortion. Is she right about that?

Paul Specht: She is right that North Carolina has no laws that address this specific situation, but she is wrong to suggest that that means that babies don't already have protections. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution, as well as a couple of federal laws, protect infants that are born at any stage, frankly. If you're an infant and you let's say emerged from your mother regardless of the circumstances —whether it's an abortion or otherwise — then you have a right to life and you have protections. So in that sense, she was not exactly right.

[Related Content: Fact Check: Are Abortion Survivors Covered By Existing Laws?]

Terry: So what did she mean by her remark then?

Specht: She never got back to us. But Phil Berger — the Senate leader — his office reached out to us and said that the lack of a specific state law might leave people open to the ability to, for lack of a better word, neglect a baby to death. When we spoke to experts at Duke and Florida State and elsewhere they just didn't see that happening.

Terry: Supporters of this legislation say that babies are being left to die after a failed abortion. That's what this bill specifically addresses. Is that true though? Is that happening?

Specht: There is very little evidence of that. The CDC did a study, or they compiled data, back in 2015 where they found 143 cases across the country where they said death was induced during the course of an abortion. Now, we're following up with the CDC to ask what that means.

Does that mean that there were severe abnormalities? That the baby wasn't compatible with life? Does that mean that it was — as Krawiec fears — neglected to death? And we still don't have the answer to that in North Carolina. Specifically, we don't have a way to track that information so there's no way of knowing how many times this has happened in our state. And the senator mentioned that on the floor as well.

Terry: So how do you rate Krawiec's remark then?

Specht: We rated it false, just because of the nature of it. She suggested that infants have no protection, which is not the case. They definitely have a right to life and the right to protections regardless of if they were born under normal circumstances, or whether they're born after a failed abortion.

Terry: Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have said that lawmakers through this bill are trying to restrict access to safe and legal abortion yet again. Does it do that?

Specht: No. In fact it includes provision that says women and mothers who have this happen to them — have their baby neglected to death by a doctor or physician or nurse — cannot be prosecuted. The bill does include harsher penalties for doctors who would allow a baby to die, even after it was born alive and didn't attempt to revive it or provide it with the medical attention it needs.

And some say that those new penalties might have a chilling effect. Some experts said that they fear that those penalties against doctors would make doctors more reluctant to offer an abortion if someone who needed it. That's sort of an indirect effect of the bill. That's not a direct effect. It's not something that's spelled out in the bill as part of your reporting.

Terry: You mentioned a tweet from a Charlotte abortion rights activist named Calla Hales that's been circulating. In that tweet she wrote, "It's my understanding that an infant younger than 30 days cannot be added to a will in North Carolina." And then she goes on to ask how is that a legal person. Is she right about that?

Credit Paul Specht

Specht: She's not. And we reached out to her to ask where she was seeing that and she told us that she thought she saw a law somewhere that restricted personhood in the cases of wills. We couldn't find evidence of that. She couldn't provide it and admitted as much to us that — hey I thought I saw this, but now I can't find it.

When we spoke to experts they said that they're not aware of any laws that restrict who is eligible to receive benefits or property or money when someone passes away. In fact, it's quite the opposite of what she said. Experts we spoke to said that you can bequeath property or money to someone who's not even born yet. So, that's not true.

Terry: I want to go back to Sen. Krawiec for just a minute. In her push for the bill, she also mentioned a law recently passed in New York as a reason for concern. And what was she talking about there?

Specht: She's referring to the Reproductive Health Act. That's a law that the state recently passed to bring it in compliance with Roe v. Wade. That allows for more abortion access in cases of when it's medically necessary for either the mother or the child. But it's been described by some as extreme.

And in North Carolina's House of Representatives, they passed a resolution calling it a "abortion on demand" policy. We've fact checked many iterations of many claims about this bill, including one made by a viral Facebook image — a meme, if you will. And this one in particular got a lot of traction on Facebook in New York because it suggested that the new RH law would make it legal to murder a baby a minute before it was born. And that's not the case that we've rated that False. And PolitiFact has written several stories on the New York law that I encourage people to go read.

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.