Survived after being born at 21 weeks gestation
26 Sep
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The Queensland Parliament Health Committee, during its inquiry into a bill to decriminalise all abortions to 9 months, commissioned Australian National University to assess the reliability of seven Australian opinion polls on abortion undertaken since 2007, including the Galaxy poll commissioned by the Australian Family Association (Qld) in May this year.

ANU cannot be regarded as an independent reviewer given it had a clear conflict of interest, as its own researchers had conducted three of the seven opinion polls it assessed.

Showing its bias, ANU tried to discredit the Galaxy poll’s findings, claiming that “it did not provide reliable information on community attitudes” due to the “leading nature of the questions, relatively small sample size and lack of information on how the sample was selected and response rates”.

In fact, the questions in this gold standard randomised telephone poll, What Queenslanders Really Think About Abortion were objective and factual.

Galaxy Research managing director David Briggs stated in evidence read out to the committee: “All information included in the questions was accurate and we believe the questions were balanced and fair.  For each question respondents could agree or disagree with the idea presented, or if they were uncertain could answer with a ‘Don’t know’ response.  At no time did we attempt to lead respondents to a particular response… In this survey we attempted to assess opinion beyond the superficial and this is the reason it may seem at odds with research designed to test community attitude to motherhood slogans.”

As for the supposedly small sample, Galaxy’s professional advice was that it was adequate for Queensland, whereas a national poll would have needed a sample of at least 1,000 to be credible. The sampling variation on a telephone poll of 400 in Queensland is plus or minus 4.9 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence interval. On a poll of 1,000 the sampling variation would have been not that much less at 3%. It is telling that ANU made no attempt to contact Galaxy for information on how the sample was selected and response rates.

ANU claimed that the statement prefacing one question – “20 weeks of pregnancy is the earliest point at which survival outside the womb is possible” – was “misleading”. This allegation was based on one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 7 May 2015 which covered 4,987 premature infants born in 24 US hospitals between April 2006 and March 2011. Only two of 129 infants born before 22 weeks of gestation who weighed 400 g or more received active treatment, but both died within 12 hours after birth.

It should not be necessary to point out the obvious fact that this study does not prove that the youngest baby to have survived anywhere in the world was 22 weeks; it merely proves that the youngest baby to have survived in those 24 US hospitals in that five year period was 22 weeks.

Of course, any extremely premature infant who does not receive active treatment will certainly die, and the vast majority of those born under 22 weeks even if they did receive active treatment would not survive without severe disabilities.

So it is accepted medical practice that babies born before 22 weeks in the US and 23 weeks in Australia do not typically receive resuscitation.

However, while it is extremely rare, there have been a handful of cases overseas where 20 week and 21 week babies did survive after active treatment. We know of two babies born at 20 weeks and three at 21 weeks in North America, who did survive after active treatment.

The two 20-week survivors are:

  • Marcus Richardson, 19 weeks 6 days, 780 g, University Hospital, Cincinnati, USA, January 1972
  • Melissa Cameron, 20 weeks, 450 g, Sault St Marie Hospital, Ontario, Canada, December 1983.

Cited in J. C. and Barbara Willke, Abortion: Questions and Answers (Cincinnati: Hayes Publishing, 1991), p. 61.


The three 21 week survivors are:

  • Kenya King, 21 weeks on June 16, 1985, in Plantation, Florida, USA

Cited in Miami Herald, October 4, 1985. Medical World News, November 11, 1985.

The New York Times, March 18, 1989. See also Willke, p. 61

  • Suzanne South, 21 weeks, July 1971, Bethesda Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio USA

Cited in Willke, p. 61

  • Kelly Thorman, 21 weeks, March 1971, St Vincent  Hospital, Toledo, Ohio USA

Cited in Willke, p. 61