Vulnerable Newborn Executive Order Praised by Mothers of Premature Babies That Were Left to Die
President Trump’s action will help to ensure medical providers don’t withhold lifesaving medical care, according to two mothers whose unborn babies died untreated.
By Mary Rose Short
WASHINGTON — Last month President Donald Trump issued an executive order to address the practice of hospital staff refusing to provide medical care to newborns born prematurely.
Many hospitals have set protocols not to treat babies born before specific gestational milestones, a policy that some critics characterize as “arbitrary” and unethical.
Amanda Finnefrock, whose premature twins Emery and Elliot died untreated in 2017, welcomed the executive order.
“I think the executive order is amazing,” Finnefrock told the Register.
“I’m currently working on Emery and Elliott’s Law here in Ohio with a state senator, and [the executive order] basically has everything in it that I have in my legislation,” she said. “I think not only is it effective, but it is very informative to parents, and it gives some clear guidance on what they can do if they’ve been through this or if this is happening to them.”
Finnefrock points to her own harrowing experience as a mother of premature twins to stress the need for explicit legislation to address protections in similar cases.
Before the babies were born, she said, the neonatologist agreed to assess the babies if they made it to 22 weeks and five days. Finnefrock’s sons were born at 22 weeks and five days, and one was crying.
Finnefrock said she begged for help, but the hospital staff simply put him in her arms and left them until both boys were dead.
Studies show that the survival rate of babies born at that age — who receive care — is currently around 30%. Nevertheless, the hospital’s policy was to withhold care for premature babies born before 23 weeks.
The Order’s Provisions
The president’s executive order instructs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that hospitals that receive federal funding are aware of their obligation to comply with Section 42 U.S.C. 1395dd of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which guarantees, in hospitals that have an emergency department, each individual’s right to an appropriate medical screening examination and to either stabilizing treatment or an appropriate transfer, and with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act), 29 U.S.C. 794, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
“Every infant born alive, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, has the same dignity and the same rights as every other individual and is entitled to the same protections under Federal law,” the executive order states.
Additionally, the order instructs HHS to withhold funding from institutions that do not comply with these laws and regulations.
HHS issued a statement following the executive order, noting that the agency had already investigated the hospital that refused to treat Finnefrock’s twins.
HHS’ investigation determined that, in refusing to examine the boys, the hospital failed to follow the EMTALA. In addition, the HHS Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether “any additional civil-rights violations occurred.”
Finnefrock told the Register that the hospital refused her request for a transfer before the babies were born and threatened her family with arrest if they helped her leave before the birth, saying she did not know what was in the best interest of her children.
When Emery was born, no one made a move to help or examine him, despite Amanda and her mother calling for assistance. He lived for 45 minutes. Elliot was crying when he was born, and the hospital staff put him in her arms, where he died two and a half hours later.
YouTube has taken down a video of Finnefrock begging for help for her sons, but it can still be viewed on Facebook and Parler.
Another Tragic Case
The Finnefrock family’s tragedy is not unique.
Temoka Walker of Birmingham, Alabama, told the Register of the ordeal that followed the delivery of her premature son at home in 2014.
Walker had gone to the hospital after experiencing early signs of labor, but was sent home and told to come back the following week. After her son was born, paramedics put the baby, who was breathing on his own, on oxygen for the ride to the hospital. But after they arrived at the hospital, he was placed in a room and left to die alone.
Khairi was born at 22 weeks and 3 days gestation, and the hospital said that they would not help a premature baby before 24-weeks gestation.
Walker also expressed gratitude for the executive order. But, like Finnefrock, she thinks it should be followed up with legislation that would strengthen the rules.
“I’m glad he did it,” Walker said. “I just feel that a lot of pressure is going to have to be pushed behind it.”
“The biggest problem [is] trying to get medical professionals to see or believe that a baby can actually survive that’s under 24-weeks gestation. I feel like no age whatsoever should be put on an infant. It’s a human being.”
Dr. Patrick Marmion’s research on the treatment of premature babies supports Walker’s view that the hospital’s gestational cutoffs are unethical. In an article in the Acta Paediatricamedical journal, Marmion notes that, after 21 weeks gestation, ultrasound dating of a pregnancy can be in error — in either direction — by as much as two weeks, and he describes the development of guidelines on whether to attempt lifesaving treatment of premature babies as based on “assertion” rather than a “consensus.”
Marmion wrote that the committee creating the guidelines for much of Oregon and Washington is “reminiscent of the ‘god committee,’ the decision-making body formed in 1962 at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital that decided which renal-failure patients were ‘worthy’ to receive dialysis.” He argued that the guidelines prevent doctors from assessing each premature baby at birth and treating those who might survive.
He calls the executive order, which overrules such guidelines, “fantastic news.”
‘They Play God’
Jill Stanek, who worked as a nurse in the labor and delivery department at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, saw premature babies die unaided as a form of abortion. Babies were induced early and either died in their parents’ arms or were held by nurses, if the nurses had time. Stanek held one little boy for 45 minutes, until he died, rather than leave him to die alone in the soiled utility room, as many babies did.
Stanek, who became a pro-life activist after witnessing such practices, praised the executive order.
“The main point is that this is forcing them to assess the babies,” she told the Register.
“Before, if their ultrasound said a mom was 21 weeks and the baby had Downs, then they just took that as the facts, without assessing the babies afterward. And they liked that, because then, if they were wrong, if the baby didn’t have Downs, if the baby weighed a lot more than what they thought, then they won’t get sued if the baby doesn’t survive and they just whisk the baby away.”
“It’s an axiom in labor and delivery: You don’t know what you have until you see the baby. You can’t rely on ultrasounds; you can’t rely on due dates — you have to see the baby to know what’s going on,” she said.
She echoed Marmion’s sentiments about doctors deciding who should live or die.
“If a baby is born very prematurely and wanted, they’re still saying to themselves, ‘Well, this baby could be blind and have cerebral palsy; the quality of life is going to be very poor,’” she said. “So they play God.”
However, babies born alive in abortion businesses are not protected by the executive order, since the EMTALA only requires hospitals with an emergency department to provide a medical screening.
In order to require medical screening and appropriate treatment of all newborns, including babies born alive in Planned Parenthood facilities and other abortion businesses, federal or state legislatures would likely have to pass laws such as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
Introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, in 2019, that legislation would require basic care for abortion survivors along with their immediate transfer to a hospital.
An abortionist found guilty of violating the law could be sentenced to five years in prison. The mother would face no penalties.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, has twice voted against the act.
In addition to requiring assessment and treatment of newborns, the president’s executive order also instructs the HHS to prioritize funding of research that will identify the best practices to improve the survival and health of premature babies. Such guidance would also be used to train hospital personnel on how best to provide lifesaving treatment to premature babies.