WASHINGTON (BP)–Legislation is needed to provide clear legal protection to newly born infants, including those who survive abortions, witnesses testified at a congressional hearing.
The Born-alive Infants Protection Act, H.R. 4292, would establish in federal law a baby living outside his mother’s womb is a person. The bill would not affect any abortion procedure or require medical treatment on an infant where it is not currently administered, said Rep. Charles Canady, R.-Fla., chief sponsor of the legislation.
Opposition to the bill was expressed by some witnesses and some Democratic members of the Constitution Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. One member, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D.-N.Y., said he was confused by the bill and questioned whether it would change any law. “It’s demeaning to Congress to pass bills” that do not change laws, he said.
The bill does not change the longstanding principle in the law that born-alive infants are entitled to legal protection, but it is necessary, Canady said. “We’re doing this, however, because we believe that that principle … is under threat given other developments in the law,” he said.
Those developments include the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June striking down a state ban on partial-birth abortion. Cultural and medical developments that threaten the principle, witnesses said, are a view proposed by some in American academia that parents should be able to kill newly born babies who are handicapped or unhealthy and a practice of allowing babies who survive abortion to die.
“If the right to abortion entails the right to kill without regard to whether the child remains in the mother’s womb, it would seem to follow that infants who are marked for abortion but somehow survive have no legal right to appropriate medical or any medical care at all,” Canady said, according to his written testimony. “And if a child born alive after a botched abortion does not receive the protection of the law, what is to prevent an abortionist from simply delivering a child and then killing it?”
Two nurses testified babies, some who might be able to survive with proper care, are being left to die when they survive abortion at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.
The abortion method used at Christ Hospital is known as induced labor abortion or live-birth abortion, said Jill Stanek, a registered nurse. The goal of the procedure is to cause a woman’s cervix to expel a premature baby who dies in the process or shortly after departure from the womb.
She held a baby boy of 21 or 22 weeks gestation and with Down Syndrome for 45 minutes until he died, Stanek said, according to her written testimony. Her fellow employees have told her of similar incidents, including one child of at least 23 weeks gestation who had a 39 percent chance of survival but was left untreated and died more than two hours later, she said. One baby survived for nearly eight hours, Stanek testified.
Robert George, a professor in the politics department at Princeton University, cited three professors — including Peter Singer, a colleague at Princeton — who have declared an infant is not a person with a right to live.
While he could continue with such examples, George testified some of “these scholars promote the idea that killing an infant at the request of its parent … is morally acceptable and ought to be legally permitted.”
“The legalization of infanticide constitutes a grave threat to the principle of human equality at the heart of American civil rights ideals,” George said. “If weak and vulnerable members of the human family — and infants are surely among the weakest and most vulnerable — can be defined out of the community of persons whose fundamental rights must be respected and protected by law, the constitutional principle of equal protection becomes a sham. We must begin now putting into place bulwarks against that threat.”
The day prior to the July 20 hearing, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., introduced legislation to protect unborn children whose mothers have been sentenced to death. The Innocent Child Protection Act, H.R. 4888, would block states from executing a pregnant woman.
Earlier in the week, Vice President Al Gore had said he favored permitting the woman to decide where to be executed while pregnant, saying, “The principle of a woman’s right to choose governs in that case,” The New York Times reported.