The following claim was made in a petition that made me sceptical:

Every year, children are born alive at the time of the abortion procedure after the 20th week of pregnancy in Europe.

Since the source page does not cite any trustworthy references, can anyone prove or disprove it?

According to a paper cited in Wikipedia (but blocked by a paywall), embryos reach 50% chance of survival at the 24th week, assuming proper care is available. In this light, I think it is quite an extraordinary claim that it would be a regular occurrence for an infant to survive a procedure that was designed to end its life, four weeks before that date.

  • 1
    The aborten in question would not take place in the 20th week. It would take place no earlier than the 20th week. The article you link gives a 10% survival chance for abortions carried out in the 23rd week.
    – Taemyr
    Nov 28, 2014 at 14:28
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    I can regularly flip coins to show heads - %50 of the time. Regularity is repetition of a pattern, not a measure of its frequency (Christmas is regularly celebrated, but only once a year). Survivability is going to be a range of time, and > 20 weeks is certainly possible for 24 weeks. I thought that procedures were deliberately designed to avoid this sort of conflict/controversy (and minimize ethical hangups). Nov 28, 2014 at 14:31
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    Living and survival aren't the same thing: if you submerged me in water I'd be alive but I wouldn't survive. Depending on whether/how you define "alive", an embryo might be "alive" but yet unable to "survive outside the womb".
    – ChrisW
    Nov 28, 2014 at 15:06
  • Thank you for the edit, @Oddthinking. As for the title, I'd rather focus on the frequency of this happening rather than the possibility. Is it clear enough from the current state of the question?
    – zovits
    Nov 28, 2014 at 16:03
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    Since my edit, @ike has has added "any" to the title - I would suggest that takes the focus away from the frequency to just a single case. You might like to remove that. (The intention of my edit was to simplify the title, to avoid "survive" because they clearly don't, and to put quotes around children because, while the claim uses that term, calling them children, not foetuses, is begging the question.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 28, 2014 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


Evidence from the USA says it can happen

  • This Wikipedia article implies that live birth can happen unless the fetus is deliberately killed:

    In the USA, fetal demise is usually induced by ultrasound-guided intracardiac injection of hypertonic saline, digoxin, or some other heart-stopping agent before the beginning of any late-term abortion procedure.[25] The possibility of unsuccessful feticide—resulting in birth of a live infant—is a malpractice concern.[26][27]

  • In 2002 the USA signed a Born-Alive Infants Protection Act:

    "Born Alive" is defined as the complete expulsion of an infant at any stage of development that has a heartbeat, pulsation of the umbilical cord, breath, or voluntary muscle movement, no matter if the umbilical cord has been cut or if the expulsion of the infant was natural, induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.

According to Wikipedia:

Death following live birth caused by abortion is given the ICD-10 underlying cause description code of P96.4; data are identified as either fetus or newborn. Between 1999 and 2013, in the U.S., the CDC recorded 531 such deaths for newborns, approximately 4 per 100,000 abortions.

Induced labour without explicit feticide is sometimes practiced in Europe

Europe's abortion rules says that "12 weeks" is the usual limit for most countries, but up to 24 weeks in the United Kingdom.

How an abortion is carried out (by the NHS in the UK) says,

Late abortion (20-24 weeks)

There are two options for a late abortion carried out at 20-24 weeks. Both require an overnight stay in hospital and are described below.

  • Surgical two-stage abortion – stage one stops the heartbeat of the foetus and softens the cervix. Stage two is carried out the following day and involves removing the foetus and surrounding tissue. Both stages are carried out under general anaesthetic.

  • Medically induced abortion – this is similar to a late natural miscarriage and involves the medicine, prostaglandin, being injected into your womb, making it contract strongly (as in labour). Contractions can last six to 12 hours. You will remain awake during the procedure and will be given medicines to help control the pain if needed. D&E may then be used to ensure the womb is completely empty.

The latter procedure doesn't do anything to specifically kill the fetus, therefore it can result in "live birth".

At 20 weeks the fetus weighs 10 oz (300 g) and is 7" (18 cm) long.

Week Twenty: The halfway point

Your baby now weighes about 11 ounces and at roughly 7 inches long they are filling up more and more of the womb. Though still small and fragile, the baby is growing rapidly and could possibly survive if born at this stage.

Apparently, in the UK the fetus is not considered a separate person until after it is born.

The Law Lords concurred that a fetus, although protected by the law in a number of ways, is legally not a separate person from its mother in English law.

The BBC reports that live births happen in practice

A 2007 article titled One in 30 aborted foetuses lives says,

One in 30 foetuses aborted for medical reasons is born alive, a 10-year study at 20 UK hospitals has found. Most of these babies with disabilities were born between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy and all lived for no more than a few hours.

The article continues,


Usually, the foetus will not survive the procedure.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it had "very strong" guidelines on terminations of pregnancy after 22 weeks.

According to the guidelines, after 22 weeks and beyond, if there are signs of major foetal abnormality and the patient has requested an abortion, the patient should be offered feticide, where a lethal injection is administered.

The patient has every right to refuse this course of action. If the baby is born alive, palliative care should be provided till the baby dies.

Theoretically, such an event could result in a doctor being accused of murder if a "deliberate act" - that is, legal abortion - were to be followed by a live birth and the subsequent death of the child because of immaturity.

The article concludes,

"It would be wrong to imply from this retrospective study, that if women undergo a medical induction abortion at under 24 weeks' gestation for reasons aside from foetal abnormality, that this is at all likely to result in a live birth.

"Doctors working in abortion care have for some years now followed the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist's guidance, that the foetal heart is stopped before a medical induction abortion around 22 weeks' gestation."

She added: "To end a wanted pregnancy because of severe foetal impairment is, understandably, a very difficult choice for women and couples."

A spokeswoman from the charity Antenatal results and Choices said: "Feticide is technically demanding and stressful for parents and professionals alike.

"Enforcing the procedure in cases where death is the inevitable outcome either as a means to reduce apparent perinatal mortality figures or to satisfy those who do not support the legal availability of abortion will not benefit anyone."

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