The abortion industry has a live-birth problem

By David Bjornstrom, Esq. — Thousands of babies are born alive each year after attempted abortions. These abortion survivors expose abortion for what it is, the death of a child. They also present a big legal problem for abortionists since the law generally treats born-alive children as legal “persons” with legal and constitutional rights. 


Abortion advocates want us to believe there are very few born-alive survivors, but documented cases are too numerous to ignore. And the numbers keep increasing, especially as more and more women use chemical abortion pills without a professional abortionist on hand to finish the job if and when the pills fail.

The abortion industry generally opposes any laws to protect those survivors, refusing to acknowledge their value as living children. Pro-abortion members of Congress in 2021 refused to pass a simple law that would have required necessary medical care for born-alive abortion survivors.

The abortion industry is also pushing for state laws to protect themselves from any liability for failed abortions. Colorado, California, and Michigan passed laws in 2022 under the guise of “reproductive health care” that may be used to defend against lawsuits or criminal prosecution if the baby dies or is killed after surviving an attempted abortion (including withdrawal of postnatal care), or for the baby’s injuries if it does not die. The death of the child or any injuries from an unsuccessful abortion are euphemistically called a “pregnancy outcome.”

How many babies survive attempted abortions?

It is impossible to know for sure how many babies survive attempted abortions since much of what we know depends on self-reporting by the abortion providers, not a reliable source. Most likely there are thousands each year in the U.S. alone.

There are at least three different kinds of abortion survivors:

  1. Survivors of attempted late term abortions. This is the most visible group, numbering in the thousands, although it is not the largest group of survivors.
  2. Survivors of second trimester induction abortions who live just a short time before succumbing from their injuries, medical neglect, or worse.
  3. Survivors of failed chemical abortions- probably the largest and fastest growing group.
Late term abortion survivors

The best-known group of abortion survivors includes those who barely escape with their lives after attempted late term abortions, many with residual health problems. These number at least 17,855 since 1973 according to the Abortion Survivors Network formed in 2012 by saline abortion survivor, Melissa Ohden. The actual number is probably much higher since the FDA and most states do not require abortion providers to report live births.

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981 quoted Dr. Willard Cates, then-director of abortion surveillance at the CDC, estimating that 400 to 500 abortion live births occur each year in the U.S. Dr. Cates noted that the actual numbers were probably higher “because organized medicine, from fear of public clamor and legal action, treats them more as an embarrassment to be hushed up than a problem to be solved.” That is an understatement.

Second trimester induction abortion survivors

The second group of abortion survivors, as many as 1,750-2,000 babies in the U.S. each year, includes those who survive just a few minutes or hours after being pulled alive from their mother’s womb in second trimester induction abortions. Information is very limited, but these numbers are based on an estimated 5,000 or more induction abortions each year (as of 2017), mostly 20-24 weeks gestation, combined with studies suggesting that 35-40% of those inductions may leave the baby still living after the procedure for an average of a half hour until it dies or is killed.

Where do we get such gruesome statistics? One source is a 2018 study reported in the Journal of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Springer), involving 302 induction abortions between 20 and 24 weeks gestation in Austria, reporting that 79.8% of the women (241 out of 302) after consultation with their doctor chose not to have the baby killed in utero before the procedure and 50.6% of the babies in those cases were born alive and lived for an average of one-half hour. Additional insight comes from a 2018 article in the Contraception Journal (White) indicating that 69% of U.S. doctors performing dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions at 18 weeks or greater do not routinely kill the baby preoperatively.

Failed chemical abortions

Chemical abortion survivors are a third and fastest growing group, estimated at more than 1,200-3,700 each year in the US. These are babies born after the drugs fail to work and the woman then declines a backup surgical abortion. Estimates are derived from records that in 2020 there were close to 500,000 chemical abortions. Approximately 1.1% of those failed to kill the baby on the first try according to a study reported in the 2013 Contraception International Reproductive Health Journal (Raymond). While some of those initial survivors were then killed by backup procedures, a September 2021 study (Aultman) published in the journal of Issues in Law & Medicine suggests that at least 22% and as many as 67% of those 1.1% live to be born after their mothers choose to continue the pregnancies when the drugs fail.

In fact, these estimates are probably low since the 1.1% failure rate was derived from a study that only considered first trimester abortions. A 2011 study on second trimester chemical abortions in the Oxford Academic Journal of Human Reproduction (Mentula) found that those later-term abortions required surgical evacuation as a backup more than 11 times as often. The authors of that study do not say how many of the second trimester babies were still living after the initial abortion attempt but we can infer that those abortions were much less effective than first trimester abortions, suggesting a higher survival rate.

It is not surprising that there are so many failed chemical abortions considering the likelihood of mistakes by distressed women coping with traumatic pregnancies. There is even more room for error in cases where a woman is unknowingly given an abortion pill by an unscrupulous boyfriend or family member or where pills are forced upon her in cases of sex trafficking. 

Finally, we should not forget chemical abortion survivors who are born following successful abortion pill reversal procedures when a pregnant woman changes her mind after taking the first of two recommended abortion pills. A medical protocol for these reversals has developed over the past 15 years or so, with more than 3,500 babies saved according to the Abortion Pill Rescue Network.

The number of chemical abortion survivors is increasing

Failed chemical abortions are on the rise now as the industry aggressively markets abortion pills as a preferred method. 

Chemical abortion failures, and resulting live births, are also likely to increase in the future as the abortion pills become less regulated. The FDA has changed its rules to make chemical abortion pills available without in-person medical consultation, paving the way for at-home, tele-med abortions and abortion pills over the internet, including black market pills, increasing the likelihood of mistakes. Some abortion advocates are even pushing for over-the-counter abortion pills and self-managed abortions where no doctor is involved at all. 

Nor should we be surprised that so many women who experience failed chemical abortions change their mind afterwards and keep the baby. Reasons for this include medical, emotional, moral and family considerations, indecision and in some cases state law restrictions. The high number of women choosing to keep their babies after failed abortions is also consistent with studies showing high rates of trauma and regret among post-abortive women in general.

Each of these abortion survivors was once marked for death but is a now-living person by the grace of God.

Where do we go from here?

Abortion survivors are a source of potential liability for the abortion industry in post-Roe America, whether they live for minutes, days or years. Born-alive babies have always been considered legal “persons” in America and the 14th Amendment to our Constitution gives them a right to life and equal protection whether they are born after an attempted abortion or born into a loving family.

The abortion industry, predictably, is seeking legal protection, especially as the abortion mentality leads inevitably toward infanticide. But not all news is bad as large parts of our country are becoming more pro-life. According to the group Americans United for Life, roughly half of all U.S. states have laws in place now to protect babies born alive after failed abortions, although some offer more robust protection than others.

Abortion survivors are witnesses to the value of every human life, increasingly able to speak out on behalf of their aborted brothers and sisters who have been silenced. Abortion survivors are proof that birth is an arbitrary and false marker of human personhood, highlighting the absurdity of any attempted legal or moral distinction between those lives before and after they were born. 

To learn more about the work of the Personhood Alliance and our 100% pro-life, no exceptions stance, subscribe to our email list.

David Bjornstrom, Esq., is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar and a retired Santa Rosa, CA-based attorney with 38 years of experience specializing in business, estate, and tax law. He serves in various pro-life and elder-focused outreach ministries. David and his wife have six children, including two adopted from China, and 16 grandchildren.

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