Andrew O'Hare, in his Salon.com review of October Baby, admitted that he was "too amused and distracted ... to bother with much in the way of scientific or medical research." Armed with this lack of research, he opined that "while the bizarre circumstances found in “October Baby” presumably could happen in the real world, the odds are something like being struck by lightning and eaten by a shark at the same time. With a winning lottery ticket tucked in your swimsuit."
Well, let's look at the odds, O Great Guru O'Hare.
Figure the Odds
What are the odds of being struck by lightning? According to the National Weather Service, 280 people are reported struck by lightning annually in the United States. They estimate that some lightning strikes go unreported, for a total of 400 people struck by lightning in the United States.
What are the odds of being eaten by a shark? I'll cut O'Hare some slack and won't even require that the shark actually kill, much less devour, its victim. According to National Geographic, there are an average of 16 shark attacks annually in the United States.
What are the odds of purchasing a winning lottery ticket? I'll again cut O'Hare some slack and assume that he means a life-changing jackpot of $1 million or more rather than the far more common scenario of a $10 winning scratch-off ticket. According to TLC program The Lottery Changed My Life, 1,600 people become millionaires every year by winning the lottery.
Let's turn our attention now to the odds of being born in the process of an abortion gone awry.
The last time anybody had anything official to say about exactly how many babies are born alive during abortions was when Willard Cates, then head of the Abortion Surveillance Branch of the Centers for Disease Control, told Liz Jeffries and Rick Edmonds of the Philadelphia Enquirer that 400 - 500 live births during abortions were reported to the CDC annually. Cates believed that this was only the tip of the iceberg, because reporting yourself for allowing an infant to be born alive during an abortion was "like turning yourself in to the IRS for an audit." ("Abortion: The Dreaded Complication." Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2, 1981)
Granted, that was in 1981, and a lot has changed since then, but in a way, things have also come full circle since then. The saline abortion method that was causing so many live births (including the birth of activist Gianna Jessen) was gradually all but abandoned, replaced by Dilation and Evacuation, or D&E, which involves dismembering the baby in-utero and pulling him or her out in pieces. This is the type of abortion that Hannah and her brother survived in October Baby.
One might argue that dismemberment pretty much eliminates the chances of survival. But alas for abortionists, no method is without the risk of that "dreaded complication," and a baby named Ana Rosa Rodriguez was born in New York City in 1991 under circumstances virtually identical to those described in October Baby. The doctor, in this case Abu Hayat, began the abortion, then sent the mother home with instructions to return the following day to complete the procedure. But, like Hannah's birth mother, Ana Rosa's mother went into labor, going to a hospital and giving birth to a living but maimed child, minus the arm torn off in the abortion attempt. October Baby differs from the true story of Ana Rosa's survival by giving us a surviving twin, rather than presenting audiences with the visual distraction of a lead actress with only one arm and the constant nagging thought about how the arm was lost.
D&E for later abortions fell out of favor, replaced by what promoter Martin Haskell called D&X, for Dilation and Extraction, but which was more popularly known as "Partial Birth Abortion."
Within a decade, those were eclipsed by the "MOLD" technique championed by infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller. MOLD stands for Misoprostol, Oxytocin, Laminaria, and Digoxin. Tiller rearranged the order of the steps in order to create a creepy if memorable acronym. The actual abortion starts with the Digoxin, which is injected into the baby's heart to kill it. Though this ought to be fool-proof in theory, it turned out not to be so in practice. Living fetuses are lively creatures, and being harpooned in the heart with a cardiac syringe isn't something they lie quietly and endure. Their efforts evade the needle can succeed.
Enough reports remain of babies surviving D&E, D&X, and MOLD abortions to give continued credence to the numbers Cates was citing, especially since he considered 400 - 500 to be the top of the iceberg. So we'll use it. In fact, let's go at the low end and say that there are only 400 survivors of late abortions annually in the United States.
How does that compare to Mr. O'Hare's scenario?
There are 400 people annually in the US struck by lightning, and 400 people surviving abortion attempts. So those are equally likely scenarios.
There are 16 people annually in the US attacked by sharks. I'll be generous and round that up to 20. That still means that there are 20 times more people in the United States surviving abortions than being attacked by sharks.
There are 1,600 people in the United States every year who purchase life-changing millionaire lottery tickets. So I will grant that there are four times as many lottery millionaires in the US than there are late-abortion survivors.
Ah, but what are the odds? The National Weather Services estimates that the true odds of being struck by lightning just by virtue of being in the United States and thus subject to its weather patterns are 1/775,000.
It's hard to find an actual risk estimate of being bitten by a shark, since statistics only note how many shark attacks take place per year, not per number of visits to the beach. It is, after all, safe to say that unless one goes to the beach, or at least to a large aquarium that houses sharks, one's odds of suffering a shark bite are zero. Just to get a ballpark figure, I'll figure that you're most likely to be bitten by a shark if you're a surfer. According to Liquid Evolution, there are 2.6 million surfers in the United States. If we say that all 20 (rounded up) shark attacks in the US annually have surfers as their victims, the odds that any given surfer will be bitten by a shark in any given year are 1/130,000.
Odds of winning the lottery vary by what kind of lottery is held, so there is no single odds of having a million-dollar lottery ticket. I'll just go with this article in Daily Finance, which notes a 1/18,000,000 chance of winning the California Super Lotto Jackpot, a fairly typical lottery.
Now, what are the odds of surviving a late abortion? According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, of the roughly 1.2 million abortions annually in the US, about 1.5%, or 18,000, are done after 20 weeks. Using the lower CDC estimate of 400 survivors a year, this means that if you are in-utero and your mother undergoes a late abortion, you have a 1/45 chance of surviving.
The odds of surviving a late abortion are 222 times greater than the odds of being bitten by a shark while you're out surfing.
All of this, of course, glosses over the question of what happens when you do survive the abortion. Will you, like the fictitious Hannah or the real-life Gianna or Ana Rosa, leave the hospital alive? Or will you, like the "snipped" babies at Kermit Gosnell's clinic, or the babies Jill Stanek saw wrapped in towels and stuck in a utility closet, die unnamed and unmourned? There aren't even estimates available on that.