WASHINGTON (BP) — The Senate again has rejected legislation to require health care for a child born alive during an abortion, leaving most Democratic members vulnerable to charges of supporting infanticide.
In a roll call Monday (Feb. 25), senators voted 53-44 to bring the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to the floor for a vote on final passage. But the effort failed to reach the 60 votes needed to succeed in the procedural move known as invoking cloture. All but three of the chamber’s 47 Democrats voted in opposition.
The vote came three weeks after a Democratic senator blocked an effort by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to gain unanimous consent from the Senate for his bill.
The Senate’s Feb. 25 action came the same day a new public opinion poll was released that showed a dramatic shift in just a month’s time for Democrats and others toward the pro-life position. The survey by The Marist Poll also found strong opposition to late-term abortions across political identifications.
The reported change in public opinion came in the wake of enactment of a New York law that legalizes abortion until birth and, according to pro-life analysis, removes protections for babies who survive abortion. It also followed comments by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that expressed support for allowing abortion-surviving infants to die.
The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act not only says a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion is a “legal person” deserving protection. But it also mandates that a health-care provider give the same degree of care offered “any other baby born alive at the same gestational age.” Under the proposal, an infant who survives an abortion must be admitted to a hospital after the initial treatment. A violation of the measure could result in a fine and/or a prison sentence of as many as five years.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore urged senators to support the bill hours before the vote.
“That somehow there would even be a question among elected officials whether it should be legal to leave a crying child to die on the table is shameful,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a written release. “Protecting the lives of living babies must not be a partisan issue. Children have intrinsic value that is defined not by their power, nor by the whim of doctors, but by the image of God each one of them bears.
“Americans deserve to know where their elected officials stand on infanticide,” he noted. “We should not be complicit in rendering imperiled children non-persons based simply on the circumstances of their birth.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said all other Democrats in the Senate should have joined Sens. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in voting for the legislation.
“This should be a no-brainer, and every Democrat should be supporting this,” Day told Baptist Press before the Senate vote.
“This is a critical moment for Democrats in saying where they stand, because as the Democratic Party, we’re saying health care is a right, not a privilege,” she said. “And if we’re saying a baby born alive doesn’t deserve that right, when does he or she, when does it start?
“[T]here really is no reason to vote against it,” Day said. “It has nothing to do with abortion, the legality of abortion, doesn’t touch Roe v. Wade,” the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
Sasse made the same point in a floor speech before the Senate’s vote on his bill.
“I want to ask each and every one of my colleagues whether or not we’re OK with infanticide,” he said. “Infanticide is what the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act is actually about.
“Nothing in this bill changes the slightest letter of Roe v. Wade,” Sasse said. “Nothing touches abortion access in this bill. This bill is about living and breathing babies that are alive outside the womb.”
While the vote on his bill should be easy, what it would do “is actually threatening to one of the most powerful interest groups in America,” the abortion industry, he said. “Unlike this legislation, [abortion rights organizations and their allies] refuse to draw any line between abortion and infanticide.”
Democrats and abortion rights leaders charged that Sasse’s proposal was an attack on women’s and doctors’ rights, as well as a political ploy.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who blocked Sasse’s unanimous consent request Feb. 4, said on the floor after the vote the bill was “anti-doctor, anti-woman and anti-family.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights group, said the proposal demonstrates Sasse is “an extremist.
“This bill is a brazen attempt by Senator Sasse, [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and the anti-choice GOP to score political points with their fringe, extremist base,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue in a written statement.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly attempted to gain approval of a similar bill but have been turned back by Democrats. Seven times from Feb. 6 to 25, a GOP member has sought unanimous consent for consideration of such a proposal, but the presiding officer has declined the request each time.
The Marist survey released Feb. 25 showed Democrats who identify as pro-life jumped from 20 percent to 34 percent in just a month. State proposals that support late-term procedures “have reset the landscape and language on abortion in a pronounced — and very measurable — way,” said Barbara Carvalho, Marist’s director, in a written release.
A similar shift occurred in Americans generally, according to the poll. In January, Americans identifying as pro-choice surpassed those saying they are pro-life by 55-38 percent. In the survey taken Feb. 12-17, pro-life and pro-choice Americans were equally divided with 47 percent each. In people under 45 years of age, the pro-choice advantage changed from 65-28 percent to 48-47 percent.
The survey also showed Americans believe abortion should be generally illegal during the third trimester by 71-25 percent. Those opposing third-trimester abortions include 60 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents and 85 percent of Republicans.
The Knights of Columbus — a Catholic men’s organization — sponsored and funded the survey in partnership with Marist.
Northam’s controversial remarks came in a Jan. 30 radio interview in which he was asked about a fellow Democrat’s bill in the Virginia House of Delegates that would have legalized abortion until birth. Northam said of the proposal, “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
The Virginia-ignited uproar came a week after New York enacted a law that legalizes abortion until birth for the mother’s “health” — which is not defined and has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to include essentially any reason — and as other states seek to wipe out limitations on the procedure. At least in part, the effort is based on the concern expressed by abortion rights advocates that two Supreme Court justices nominated by President Trump will help overturn the Roe v. Wade opinion.
Unlike with Sasse’s bill, Democrats did not block similar legislation that gained approval in 2002. The Senate passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act by unanimous consent, and the House of Representatives approved it by voice vote.
The measure, signed into law by President George W. Bush, clarified a newborn child — “at any stage of development” and fully outside the womb — is a person to be protected under federal law. The legislation especially targeted what was known at the time as live-birth abortion. The method, practiced in at least one hospital in Chicago, resulted in surviving babies being left unattended to die.
The 2002 law does not adequately protect children who survive an abortion, Sasse said in reintroducing his bill in January. His proposal makes specific requirements of health-care providers and calls for penalties not in the 2002 measure.