A story reporting that a screaming baby was left to die after a failed abortion has circulated on a number of pro-life web sites since 2016. For example, in 2016 the web site LiveAction.org reported it under the headline “Infant who survived abortion screamed for an hour while left alone to die,” while in 2019, Life Site News.com reported the same story but asserted the incident “just happened.”
One version of the report read (in part) as follows:
Doctors and medical staff at Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, Poland, left a child to die after a botched abortion, according to local media reports detailing the horrific scene.
The baby was born on March 7, 2016 at 24 weeks, after an abortion failed. The child cried and screaming for an hour before dying, according to witnesses, as reported on Republika Television.
Medical personnel did not try to help the help the child in any way; which can result in the parents of the child needing support and grief counseling to cope.
According to Bartosz Lewandowski, a lawyer from Ordo Iuris Institute, medical personnel can face criminal charges for not helping a child whose life is in danger. Medical personnel could even be charged with homicide.
The story crops up when political controversies over abortion rights hit the news. For example, the Irish publication The Journal analyzed the rumor in 2018, noting that the claim incorporated the 2018 Irish referendum vote on abortion rights in which a near-total ban on the procedure was lifted. The tale circulated in the U.S. in 2019 after the Democratic party gained power in several state legislatures in the 2018 midterm elections and enacted broader abortion rights in their respective states.
The Journal traced the story’s origin’s to a copy of a 9 March 2016 letter sent to prosecutors by Father Ryszard Halwa, founder of the Polish pro-life organization S.O.S. Foundation Defense of Conceived Life, a letter that was also sent to the Telewizja Republika television station in Poland.
The letter cited anonymous employees at Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, who Father Halwa stated were “shaken morally” by an incident that had occurred days earlier when an abortion procedure was carried out at the sixth month of gestation due to a Down syndrome diagnosis. According to Halwa’s letter, the aborted child showed signs of life, including screaming, but was given no medical care and died after about an hour.
The horrific-sounding story initially created a media storm in Poland, and perhaps banking on the fact that most readers won’t trace the controversy back to news reports in its original language, partisan English-language web sites have repeatedly rehashed it.
In addition to Down syndrome, the unborn child had also been diagnosed with heart and kidney defects, and those defects would have prevented it from surviving outside the womb, the newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported. After delivery it survived roughly half an hour (not an hour), during which time hospital staff took palliative care measures. The decision to resuscitate the baby was left up to the parents, who chose not to do so.
According to the Polish weekly news magazine Polityka, health care authorities deemed that the hospital staff had acted appropriately, and prosecutors were notified but ultimately took no action.
Polish publications reflected a controversy over the claim that the baby “screamed,” with several sources quoting a well known Warsaw gynecologist named Grzegorz Górski, who stated that a premature infant at that stage of development would not have possessed the ability to do so.
We reached out to the Holy Family Hospital in Poland for comment but have not received a response.