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Think Progress Botches Details on Death of Michelle Wilkins’s Baby

In a report on a proposed law which would make it possible for the state of Colorado to bring murder charges after the death of an unborn baby, Think Progress‘s Health Editor manages to misstate the facts of the crime which prompted the bill in the first place.

Author Tara Culp-Ressler acknowledges that a terrible crime took place in Colorado last month. The facts are quite gruesome. Michelle Wilkins, who was 7-months pregnant at the time, responded to an ad on Craigslist for baby clothes. When she arrived at the home listed in the ad, she was stabbed and her baby was cut out of her womb by her attacker.

Wilkins was able to call 911 and managed to stay lucid, despite significant blood loss, until help arrived. Unfortunately, her baby, who she planned to name Aurora, was not so lucky. After authorities pieced together what had happened, they arrested Dynel Lane and charged her with 9 counts, including attempted murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy. However, Lane was not charged with the murder of baby Aurora because an autopsy determined she did not taken a breath outside the womb and, thus, did not constitute a “live birth” under Colorado law.

Think Progress gets the charges right but mangles the rest of the facts, claiming, “Lane was charged with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy, but she did not face a murder charge because coroners determined that Wilkins’s fetus was not viable outside the womb, since it did not have the lung capacity to breathe on its own.”

First of all, Wilkins’s fetus was a girl, not an “it.” This should not be controversial. Even DA Stan Garnett repeatedly referred to the baby as “Aurora” in his press conference announcing the charges. That was more than two weeks ago. Did Think Progress miss it or are they intentionally trying to dehumanize a dead child?

Additionally, the facts presented in Think Progress‘s description are incorrect. You can find this out by simply following the links they provide, neither of which matches with the claims being made in the Think Progress story. Regarding the child’s viability, this Washington Post account of the crime reveals hospital staff told police the baby, “was approximately seven months old and would have been viable.” In fact, Aurora Wilkins was 34 weeks when she died. Under normal circumstances, a baby born at 34 weeks has a greater than 98 percent chance of survival. In other words, her viability, defined as chance of surviving outside the womb, was excellent.

Also, there is no proof that Aurora died because of insufficient “lung capacity” as Think Progress claims. Premature babies sometimes have trouble breathing, and an autopsy found evidence that Aurora’s lungs did not fill with air after she was cut from the womb. However, doctors routinely help newborns drain fluid from their airway by suctioning the baby’s mouth, nose, and sometimes their windpipe. Perhaps all she needed was this kind of routine medical attention.

The exact cause of baby Aurora’s death has not been revealed yet. A final autopsy report won’t be released until sometime next month. Perhaps that report will reveal some as-yet-unknown wrinkle in the case. But statistically speaking, Aurora was viable and had a greater than 98 percent chance of survival. The fact that she did not survive—that her presumably healthy heart stopped beating some time after this awful crime took place—means a murder charge is appropriate here. That will not happen in this case, but Aurora’s death appears to be ample justification for a change in Colorado law before the next such case comes along.

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