When the topic of abortion came up during the first Republican primary presidential debate this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shared a confusing anecdote about a woman he met who he said survived the procedure.
“I know a woman in Florida named Penny,” DeSantis said. “She survived multiple abortion attempts. She was left dumped in a pan. Fortunately, her grandmother saved her and took her to another hospital.
Some accused the governor of making up the story.
“Let me see if I understand this correctly. Doctors tried to abort “Penny” several times and threw her in the frying pan, and then her grandmother took her to another hospital? DeSantis lies like a little kid,” one person posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Our research has found that a woman named Penny who tells an unusual birth story about an attempted abortion does exist.
We’ve asked the DeSantis campaign for evidence or more information. The campaign responded via email, sending only a link to a Daily Signal article that identified “Penny” by her full name and told her story.
The woman DeSantis is referring to is Miriam “Penny” Hopper, an anti-abortion activist who said she survived an attempted abortion in Florida in 1955. Her claim, which has not been verified, was presented online by Protect Life Michigan. anti-abortion group.
In a video and in interviews, Hopper said she was born at about 23 weeks gestation after her mother went to a hospital in Wauchula, Florida, while bleeding. In a 2013 interview with radio station WFSU, Hopper said she believed an abortion was attempted at home before her parents went to the hospital, which may also be why DeSantis mentioned “multiple” abortion attempts.
Hopper said the doctor at the hospital induced labor and she was born weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces and left on the nightstand. She told WFSU that her grandmother later found her alive and was furious that she had been abandoned. A nurse then volunteered to transport Hopper to what was then Morell Memorial Hospital in Lakeland, Florida, now the site of Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center. That’s about 40 miles north of the hospital where Hopper said she was born.
Her story has been used to support “born alive” bills in state legislatures that aim to protect babies who survive abortion, even though there are federal laws to that effect.
We have not been able to assess the accuracy of Hopper’s account. We have been unable to find records such as news reports dating back to the 1950s, and people who could confirm the story, such as her grandmother, are no longer alive. Hopper did not respond to requests for comment.
From a medical point of view, the scenario is questionable.
From the 1950s to 1980, “neonatal death was virtually assured” for babies born at or before 24 weeks’ gestation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says on its website.
Recent studies have shown large differences in modern survival rates for babies born around 23 weeks, due in part to improved hospital resuscitation practices and active treatment.
A University of Rochester Medical Center study published in 2022 found that between 2013 and 2018, babies born at 23 weeks — who were “actively treated” at academic medical centers in the Neonatal Research Network, funded by the National Institutes of Health—had an almost 56 percent chance of survival.
This is significantly higher than the 23-week survival rate at many other institutions, as well as a previous study conducted from 2008 to 2012 in the same network, which put the rate at 32%. (According to a New York Times article, life-saving care for babies born at 22 and 23 weeks varies by hospital policy and physician opinion.)
Before the 1970s, most babies born before 28 weeks’ gestation died because they were unable to breathe on their own for more than a short time, and reliable mechanical ventilators for these babies did not yet exist. It also makes it unlikely that Hopper would have survived long without medical intervention when he was born at 23 weeks in the 1950s.
This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.