ABC, CBS Censor Study Showing Babies Viable at 22 Weeks

NYT front-page-worthy story ‘could affect the abortion debate.’

Broadcast networks have taken their cues from The New York Times, except when it publishes stories about babies that they don’t like.

A study released Wednesday by The New England Journal of Medicine documented thousands of premature births to discover a small number of babies born at 22 weeks, with medical treatment available to them, survived with few health implications. The findings that could “affect the abortion debate” landed on the front page of the May 7 New York Times and garnered attention from NBC’s Today. Other media, like ABC and CBS, stayed silent during their morning and evening news shows.

On May 7, during NBC’s Today, co-anchor Natalie Morales introduced “some good news perhaps for parents” in the form of a “surprising new study with big implications.”

“Currently, most medical experts consider 24 weeks as the age of viability,” she said. “But now leading medical groups are considering reducing that.”

“And it could affect the abortion debate,” she added.

Stressing the study’s importance, Morales didn’t bring up the story just once – she detailed the “important new study” three times during the NBC broadcast. 

Later on, Morales questioned NBC medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar about the new findings.

“What are the implications of this?” she asked. “Why is this so important?” 

Dr. Azar acknowledged the “very important” study affecting the 18,000 preemies born every year in the United States – with 5,000 born at 22 to 23 weeks.

The “very well-designed study,” she said, “reaffirms” that while most babies born before 24 weeks “don’t have a very high chance of survival,” “a small number can make it.”

Both Morales and Dr. Azar hailed the study as a “great hope for parents.”

For The New York Times, the story warranted a front-page spot. Writer Pam Belluck highlighted the “study [that] could affect the abortion debate in a piece entitled, “Preterm Babies Can Be Viable At Earlier Birth” (also available online).

“A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible,” Belluck wrote, “raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.”

Belluck explained those “implications” in her piece.

“The Supreme Court has said that states must allow abortion if a fetus is not viable outside the womb,” she pointed out, “and changing that standard could therefore raise questions about when abortion is legal.”

The broadcast networks continuously hamper the voice of the pro-life movement, from dedicating a mere 15 seconds to the hundreds of thousands attending the 2015 March for Life in Washington, D.C. to dragging their feet in covering stories like that of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell.

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.