WASHINGTON — An anti-abortion group that mounted a six-month undercover investigation has released videos this week that raise questions about what might happen to a baby as a result of an unsuccessful abortion.
One edited video features a Washington, D.C., doctor, Cesare Santangelo, who said that in the unlikely event that an abortion results in a live birth, “we would not help it.” Santangelo was answering repeated questions from an undercover operative about what would happen, hypothetically, if she gave birth after an unsuccessful abortion.
“I mean, technically, you know, legally, we would be obligated to help it, you know, to survive, but … it probably wouldn’t,” Santangelo is shown telling the woman, who was 24 weeks pregnant. “It’s all in how vigorously you do things to help a fetus survive at this point.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Santangelo said he was trying to reassure the woman, who turned out to be an undercover operative of the group, Live Action. In reality, he said, he would call 9-1-1. But he said he stands by what he said on tape.
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“What I said is, basically I wouldn’t do anything extraordinary,” he said Saturday. “We would call EMS. We would call 9-1-1. But I wouldn’t do intubation or anything … You let nature take its course.”
The videos do not depict Santangelo doing anything illegal. Live Action provided an advance copy of the video, and other extended footage of the D.C. clinic encounter, to The Post on the condition that it not be published before Monday.
Also on the extended tape is a nurse saying unequivocally that the clinic would take any live birth to a hospital. Under D.C. law, it is generally permissible for one party to a conversation to record it without consent.
Live Action plans to release more videos as part of a campaign targeting clinics that perform abortions late in pregnancy, also known as “late-term” abortions. It claims the videos show that abortion doctors are willing to kill babies in violation of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which requires them to try to save a child born during a failed abortion using the same measures used in miscarriages or preterm births at the same stage of pregnancy.
Santangelo’s attorney, Alfred Belcuore, criticized the recording of “a private exchange between a physician and his patient” and their release as an “outrageous intrusion upon the doctor-patient relationship.”
Live Action president Lila Rose said the group’s videos expose “truly gruesome, illegal and inhuman practices.” She defended the tactics, saying undercover investigations are a powerful method to expose abuses.
Another video released Sunday shows an unidentified worker in the New York City borough of the Bronx, saying the clinic would put the baby in a jar of “solution” that would cause it to stop breathing.
Marjana Banzil, director of the Bronx clinic, said Friday she had not viewed the video but that any employee who would say such a thing was misinformed.
“I have never had any fetus that was born alive,” she said. “If my staff member or somebody had mentioned something [like that], it was something they didn’t understand.” Live Action is calling for investigations of the Washington Surgi-Clinic and Dr. Emily Woman’s Health Center in the Bronx.
Experts say it is exceedingly rare for a live birth to result from an abortion attempt. Santangelo and other doctors said they have never witnessed it.
But interest in the subject has been rekindled during the trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, who is accused of snipping the spines of living babies after they were removed from their mothers’ bodies.
A jury began weighing murder charges Tuesday against Gosnell, who is charged with killing five people, including four viable babies allegedly born alive in what authorities describe as illegal, late-term abortions routinely performed at his clinic.
The group outfitted three women between 23 and 26 weeks pregnant with tiny cameras and sent them to 18 clinics pretending to seek abortions. Rose said the women were recruited and paid between $1,000 and $2,500.
The videos come at a time of particular upheaval over abortion. Several states have passed laws severely restricting access to the procedure, which abortion-rights groups have challenged or intend to in court.
Many of those laws target early-stage pregnancy, but in recent years, late-term abortions have been more controversial. Most states have some restrictions on late abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive-health-research center.
More than 88 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed each year in the United States are done in the first trimester, and most doctors will not perform them beyond 24 weeks because of moral qualms, legal concerns or lack of experience.
Barely 1 percent of procedures — perhaps about 15,000 each year — are done after 21 weeks. At 37 weeks, a baby is generally considered full-term. No group has statistics on how many fetuses survive an abortion, experts said.
Live Action was founded by Rose, a former associate of conservative activist James O’Keefe, whose controversial stings contributed to the demise of the liberal group ACORN.
She has used similar techniques in her campaign against Planned Parenthood, employing actors to pose as prostitutes and pimps in an effort to provoke clinic workers into condoning child-sex trafficking or sex-selective abortions.