OAK LAWN, Ill.—Christ Hospital in this southern suburb of Chicago is under investigation by federal and state authorities over a procedure that critics say amounts to infanticide, hospital officials acknowledge.

The attorney general's office and the Illinois Department of Public Health want to find out if so-called “therapeutic abortions” are performed in its labor and delivery department about 20 times a year.

In the procedure, used when the mother learns that her baby has mental or physical handicaps, labor is induced, a child is born and then given “comfort care” before being starved or asphyxiated. These abortions are performed through the 23rd week of gestation, only a week shy of present determinations of viability outside the womb.

Illinois Sen. Patrick O'Malley, a member of Christ Hospital's board of directors, said, “Our staff is working with the attorney general's office to understand the legal implications of this procedure in light of where we are today under the law. This may not even be part of Roe v. Wade. So it's a complex issue but we need to take a close look at it.”

The hospital has no official policy on these abortions, so in effect it carries them out with no definite mandate on an institutional or corporate level, said Nora O'Callaghan, head of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Respect Life Office.

The procedure was first brought to public attention in May by maternity ward nurse Jill Stanek, O'Callaghan told the Register, and was the subject of local media attention in Chicago in late September.

Cardinal Francis George has written several letters to Christ Hospital urging them in the strongest terms to halt the practice, said O'Callaghan.

At a pro-life rally at Christ Hospital on Oct. 2, Stanek, who is not a Catholic, said she was grateful for the cardinal's response. “God bless him. He took my word that this was going on and he turned out a letter to the hospital. … The Catholic Church has been wonderful. I have been amazed at how pro-life they are, how they're willing to do something effective for unborn children. I really am amazed.”

Stanek, who is still employed as a nurse at the hospital, hopes that her coming forward will induce the hospital to stop using the procedure.

Illinois State Sen. Chris Lauzen, told the Register that he was encouraged by the outpouring of response to Stanek's disclosure. “The most important thing is that a demonstration on a crummy, rainy morning brought so many people out to change things.”

He called opponents of the practice to call on “the power of God — the power of prayer — and then action.

The problem with all these issues [abortion and infanticide] is that the majority of the people don't believe that this actually happens in America.”

The senator, a key proponent of an attempt to ban partial-birth abortions in Illinois, said he would work with O'Malley to sponsor legislation to end the practice in Illinois health care institutions.

O'Malley said the procedure was “a matter of great concern to those of us with deep-seated convictions, which, frankly, in this community represents a healthy majority of the people.”

Bob Horwath writes from Chicago.