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House proposals seek to protect unborn, newly born children

WASHINGTON (BP)–Measures calling for the protection of unborn and newly born human life have been introduced in Congress.

Rep. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla., submitted a resolution expressing Congress’ opinion human life is present legally when a heartbeat and brain waves are detectable and such human life is protected by the U.S. Constitution. The sense-of-the-Congress resolution would not be binding.

On April 13, a day after Coburn announced his resolution, Rep. Charles Canady, R.-Fla., offered a bill to protect babies who are completely expelled from their mother, including those who survive abortion. The Born-alive Infants Protection Act seeks to make sure all babies who survive birth are treated as persons under federal law.

Coburn’s resolution addresses a legal issue stemming from the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion. In its decision, the court said it would not determine when life begins. The practical effect of the ruling, however, was to legalize abortion throughout all stages of pregnancy.

The resolution says a heartbeat can be detected 24 days after conception and brain-wave activity at 41 days.

Coburn recently told Baptist Press, “I wanted the Supreme Court to have to choke on it, because what they said was: ‘We don’t know when life begins.’ And what I’m saying is: ‘You may not, but we certainly know how to measure when it’s present.'”

His resolution also says death is legally defined in every jurisdiction in the country “as the irreversible cessation of spontaneous cardiac activity and brain-wave activity.”

Coburn, a physician who has delivered more than 3,500 babies, said in a written release, “If our laws respect the laws of nature in recognizing death, they must also respect the laws of nature in recognizing life.

“Brain waves and a heartbeat are to unborn children what human blood was to slaves — an undeniable mark of their humanity. Denying the humanity of the unborn after brain waves and a heartbeat are detectable is the moral equivalent of slave-owners denying the humanity of their slaves.”

Canady’s legislation targets a practice that has been reported increasingly in recent years — the refusal to treat or even the willful killing of babies who survive abortion. He cited an April 10 incident in Sydney, Australia, in which a doctor denied treatment to a baby girl after she survived an abortion. She lived for 80 minutes while the hospital staff waited for her to die, Canady said.

The bill would not affect any abortion procedure or change the standard of care for newborns, he said.

Southern Baptist bioethicist Ben Mitchell lauded the congressmen for their “moral courage and stalwart defense of human lives.”

“The barbarism of our culture makes it necessary to spell out in detail what is protectable human life,” said Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “If a member of Congress cannot agree that if the brain and heart of a baby in her mother’s womb are working she has a life worth protecting, that member should be ashamed and be replaced. Similarly, if our legislators cannot agree that all infants born alive should be protected, they ought to quit their jobs today. They are not fit to lead a nation of free people.

“Jesus said, ‘Whatever you’ve done to the least of these little ones, you did it to me.’ How we treat our ‘little ones’ is an issue of great moment. Either we honor them by protecting their lives or we demean our humanity by permitting their destruction.”

Mitchell is assistant professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill.