BY SIMON CALDWELL
ITALY’S ABORTION laws yesterday came under attack from the Catholic Church after a baby boy survived a botched abortion for nearly two days.
The case of the boy who was wrapped in a sheet and left to die should shake people’s consciences, said Italian Archbishop Santo Marciano of Rossano.
The abortion was carried out on Saturday April 24 at the Nicola Giannattasio Hospital hospital in Rossano Calabro in the south of the country. On Sunday Fr Antonio Martello, the hospital chaplain, went to pray beside the body and saw the sheet move. He called for help and the baby, weighing ust 11oz, was transferred to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit in nearby Cosenza. The baby died on Monday morning.
The mother, who was 22 weeks pregnant with her first child, opted for an abortion because a scan had revealed the child had a cleft lip and palate, a condition which can be rectified by minor surgery.
Archbishop Marciano, the local ordinary, condemned the killing of the child in an interview with Vatican Radio last week. “We need to begin to reflect on how the practice of abortion is favouring a superficial and unjust approach to the intangible value of human life,” he said. “This episode must truly shake people’s consciences. It is not possible that a foetus aborted at the 22nd week, still alive, is left to die. This is something truly abhorrent. I would define this as barbaric.” Bishop Elio Sgreccia, a former president of the Pontifical Council for Life, said the law needed to be clarified to ensure unborn children able to survive outside the womb are protected. “If the aborted foetus, in a voluntary or accidental way, is alive – also if it is at the limit of survival, at the age limit – the doctor is in the presence of a foetus that, because it is strong or because the dates were not properly calculated, fortunately, is living,” he said. The doctor “is obliged to make it live”, the bishop told Vatican Radio.
Police are investigating the case for “homicide” because infanticide is illegal in Italy.
The law means that doctors had an obligation to try to preserve the life of the child once he had survived the abortion. Eugenia Roccella, a junior health minister, has promised a government inquiry. “The Minister of Health will send inspectors to the hospital in Rossano Calabro to investigate what actually happened, and to see if the Law 194, which prohibits abortion when there is a possibility of the foetus living separately from the mother, and permits it only when the continuation of the pregnancy would result in lifethreatening danger to the mother,” she said.
She said it appeared that the case involved the “deliberate abandonment of a seriously premature neonate, possibly also with some form of disability, an act contrary to any sense of human compassion but also of any accepted professional medical practice”.
Miss Roccella added: “We must remember that a baby, once born, is an Italian citizen equal to all the others, and is entitled to all fundamental rights, including the right to health and therefore to be given full support.” Most abortions at 22 weeks involve the induction of the birth which normally results in the death of the child.
The case is causing uproar in Italy because it is the second involving a 22-week baby surviving the procedure in just three years.
The other involved a baby in Florence who weighed just 17oz when he was aborted because of a suspected genetic disorder. He lived for three days.
Since 1978 abortion has been available on demand in the first three months of pregnancy but is restricted to specific circumstances, such as disability, in the second trimester. The government is considering a review of the laws.
Figures in Britain last month revealed that the number of babies born weighing only 2lbs has more than doubled in just two years. Yet the proportion of tiny babies born stillborn has nearly halved, National Health Service statistics have shown.
The figures do not reveal at what stage the babies were born but a child weighing under 2lb is likely to have been born at least three months early. They will inevitably include some born alive at an age when they could have been aborted.
More than 200,000 abortions are performed each year in Britain.
The increasing number of babies surviving below 24 weeks, partly because of advances in medicine, has led to widespread calls for the legal upper limit to be further reduced. Attempts to lower the limit failed in Parliament in 2008.
In 2002 a baby in Manchester was born alive at 24 weeks after surviving three attempts to abort him. He is now a seven-year-old schoolboy.