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Italy investigates report baby lived through abortion

From Hada Messia, CNN
  • Reports: "Premature newborn survived an abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy"
  • Chaplain saw infant was alive 20 hours after abortion, alerted staff
  • Infant died in hospital three hours later
  • Three separate investigations into the case have been launched
  • Italy
  • Abortion

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Italian officials are investigating reports that an infant survived an abortion, living for "a whole day" after having been left to die by hospital staff, the Italian Ministry of Health said.

The "premature newborn ... survived an abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy," the ministry said, citing "media reports." Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks.

"If the news turns out to be true, we are dealing with a very grave case of ... abandonment of a premature newborn, probably also with some form of handicap: an act which is contrary to the sense of human piety and to any medical practice," the ministry said in a statement released Monday, two days after the abortion was performed.

The Rev. Antonio Martello, a hospital chaplain, discovered that the infant was still alive on Sunday, 20 hours after the abortion, according to the assistant bishop of Rossano, where the incident took place.

Martello was praying in front of the infant when he saw that it was breathing, according to the assistant bishop, the Rev. Santo Battaglia.

Martello immediately alerted doctors, who took the baby to a bigger hospital in the nearby town of Consenza, Battaglia said. It died there hours later.

Italian law allows women to have abortions past week 20 of a pregnancy if the fetus appears to show defects, or if the physical or mental health of the mother requires it.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion.

Three separate investigations are looking into the incident.

Local health authorities are holding one inquiry to determine if the mother's health was really at risk, exactly how many weeks pregnant she was, how long the baby lived, and if the doctors were negligent, the head of that investigation told CNN.

That investigation started Monday and is ongoing, its leader, Dr. Arcangelo Fonti, said.

Separately, legal authorities in Rossano are investigating the incident as a possible manslaughter.

Their probe will include an autopsy to determine how developed the baby's lungs were, which should help determine its exact age, a health ministry representative said on behalf of under-secretary Eugenia Roccella, who handles medical-ethical issues for the department.

The health ministry's own investigation will start Monday to determine if abortion law was breached, and will take the findings of the other two probes into account, the ministry representative said.