Justice for the 8 - Dr Joanna Howe

Justice for the 8

Justice for the 8

In the first 6 months of South Australia’s new abortion up to birth laws, 10 gestationally viable babies were killed after 23 weeks and until birth.

8 of these babies were perfectly healthy and killed in non-emergency situations.

Why were these South Australian not induced alive and given medical care?

Why were they brutally killed in-utero and delivered stillborn?

After 23 weeks a child is considered “viable”. Indeed, the South Australian Perinatal Practice Guideline on Perinatal Care At The Threshold of Viability stipulate that “Decisions should be based on the best available evidence about the prognosis for infants born in situations similar to that currently present.”

Yet for unwanted babies slated for abortion, the medical team disregards “the best available evidence” about the child’s prognosis and the human rights of that child are completely overridden.

Allowing abortion up to birth in South Australia makes our laws the most extreme in the world and we must not stay silent while healthy babies are being needlessly killed.

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Please sign my open letter to Premier Peter Malinauskas and Opposition Leader David Speirs to ask for their urgent intervention to amend the Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021 (SA) to make it illegal to kill healthy babies after 23 weeks and until birth.
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Peter Malinauskas and David Spiers


I am writing to ask for your urgent action to address the unintended and devastating impact of the new Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021 (SA) on healthy, viable South Australian children. This Act was intended to modernise and decriminalise abortion law. Instead it has ushered in a new era of abortion up to birth in South Australia which has already resulted in the needless deaths of premature South Australian children.


During the parliamentary debate on the new laws, the Lower House was assured by then Attorney-General Vicki Chapman that healthy, viable babies would not be killed for a mental health reason affecting the mother.


Yet, in the first six months of the new law, 8 out of the 10 babies killed after 22 weeks and 6 days were perfectly healthy.


Table 6a of the most recent annual report of the SA Abortion Reporting Committee establishes that these 8 babies were killed because of the “physical or mental health of the pregnant person”.[1] Note these were non-emergency situations given that they were not recorded under the reason “to save the life of pregnant person or another fetus.”


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Both of you are to be commended for voting for an amendment which would have prevented the abortion of healthy, viable babies during the parliamentary debate on the Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021 (SA). That amendment failed to secure enough votes because the then Attorney-General assured the House that healthy, viable babies would not be killed. Given that in just six months, this has proven wholly inaccurate, now is the time to urgently introduce and pass an amendment to rectify this problem.


It is important to note the increasing prospects of success for babies born prematurely. A 2023 study of 29 babies born at 22 weeks found that with active intervention at birth these babies had a survival rate of 82.8%.[2] An earlier study, which is cited in South Australia’s own Perinatal Practice Guideline for extremely premature babies found that “the rate of survival to hospital discharge was 82.7% for infants born at 25 weeks gestation and admitted to intensive care, 68.2% at 24 weeks and 54.5% at 22/23 weeks gestation.”[3] Table 3 from the South Australian Perinatal Practice Guideline on Perinatal Care At The Threshold of Viability is extracted below:



The abortion procedure to kill healthy, viable babies is ‘feticide’, which is where specific interventions occur to ensure the death of the in-utero baby prior to being delivered fully intact vaginally through labour. In this procedure, ‘feticide is performed by ultrasound specialists who have skills in accessing the fetal circulation to instil intracardiac potassium chloride, resulting in cessation of fetal cardiac activity prior to the commencement of the termination procedure’.[4] In Australia no pain relief is given to an in-utero baby prior to feticide despite substantial evidence that babies experience pain at this gestation.[5]


Given that an abortion after 22 weeks and 6 days requires a mother to deliver her stillborn child vaginally, there is a clear opportunity here to require that child to be induced alive rather than dead. Such an approach respects the human rights of both mother and child.


A failure to address this problem now will mean that more healthy, viable South Australian children will be needlessly and violently killed. These children should be treated equally with other South Australian children of the same gestational age.


We urge your urgent intervention and leadership to ensure the prioritisation of this matter.

 


 

[1] Wellbeing SA, South Australian Abortion Reporting Committee, Annual Report for the Year 2022 (March 2023) p 10  <https://www.wellbeingsa.sa.gov.au/assets/downloads/abortion-reporting/South-Australian-Abortion-Reporting-Committee-Report-2022.pdf>.

[2] Motojima, Y., Nishimura, E., Kabe, K. et al. Management and outcomes of periviable neonates born at 22 weeks of gestation: a single-centre experience in Japan. J Perinatol (2023).

[3] Chow S, Creighton, P, Chambers G and Lui K. 2019. Report of the Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network - 2017. Sydney: ANZNN. Available from URL: http://www.preru.unsw.edu.au/PRERUWeb.nsf/page/ANZNN+reports; See also: SA Department for Health and Wellbeing, Perinatal Care At The Threshold of Viability, South Australian Perinatal Practice Guideline.

[4] Lauren Megaw and Jan Dickinson, ‘Feticide and Late Termination of Pregnancy’ (2018) 20(2) O&G Magazine.

[5] After examining all the available evidence and considering the ethical issues, researchers Derbyshire and Bockmann recommend that foetal analgesia and anaesthesia should be standard treatment in any abortion from the second trimester and especially after 18 weeks: S Derbyshire and J Bockmann, ‘Reconsidering Fetal Pain’ (2020) 46 Journal of Medical Ethics 3-6.