Senator Blocks Bill to Guarantee Care for Babies That Survive Abortion

February 5, 2019 Updated: February 5, 2019

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has blocked a bill that would expand protections for children that are born alive after an abortion.

The bill was presented on Feb. 4 by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who emphasized its necessity in light of a recent statement by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in which he appeared to endorse abortion even after birth, in a Jan. 30 radio interview.

“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,” he said. “And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

While rare, unborn children have been known to survive late-term abortion procedures where birth is induced. Sasse’s bill requires such children to receive the same care expected for any other newborns by on-scene health care practitioners. Upon such care, the medical practitioners would need to ensure the child is “immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”

The bill prescribes up to five years in prison to violators, but that charge would not apply to the mother. It gives the mother the right to sue health care practitioners for violations of the statute.

Sasse called for the bill to pass by unanimous consent, saying it “prohibits exactly the kind of infanticide that Governor Northam was endorsing.”

“That’s it. That’s what the legislation is about,” he said. “It’s based on the simple idea that every baby deserves a fighting chance. It’s a simple idea that every human being is an image bearer, even the weakest and the most marginalized among us are no less human, and every one of us has a moral obligation to defend the defenseless.”

But Murray objected, saying there are already laws prohibiting infanticide.

“This is a gross misinterpretation of the actual language of the bill that is being asked to be considered and, therefore, I object,” she said.

Senate rules allow a bill to pass expeditiously, without a roll call vote, but only if no senator objects.

It was by unanimous consent that the Senate passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 that codified that an infant, even if born prematurely or after an abortion procedure, is considered a person and alive upon clearing the birth canal if it “breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles.”

While Murray is correct in saying that infanticide is illegal under U.S. law, that doesn’t mean abortion providers are necessarily required to provide it immediate care.

“They say leaving newborn infants to die is already illegal. It isn’t. As of 2014, only 26 states had laws creating a specific affirmative duty for physicians to provide medical care to infants born in botched abortions,” wrote Alexandra DeSanctis in a Feb. 4 article for the right-leaning National Review.

In fact, she wrote that New York recently removed the requirement after relaxing abortion restrictions.

Both Sasse and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Sasse’s bill, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, will be brought to the floor again, perhaps for a roll call vote.

Murray’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Rare But Real

A majority of abortion facilities appear unwilling to perform an abortion later in the pregnancy.

At the end of 2018, there were 87 abortion facilities in New York, according to a survey by Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion Christian organization.

“Of those, 60 clinics voluntarily confined abortions to 14 weeks [of pregnancy] or under,” the organization stated. “There were 17 clinics that limited abortions to 23 weeks or under. Ten clinics were willing to abort through 24 weeks.”

At 24 weeks, the unborn is about 8 inches tall, hears, moves in coordinated manner, may suck its thumbs, and have hiccups, the Mayo Clinic states on its website.

But some providers go even further, like the Southwestern Women’s Options in New Mexico, which advertises “abortions through 32 weeks” and “after 32 weeks on a case by case basis.”

At 32 weeks, the unborn baby is about 11 inches tall and weighs close to four pounds. By the 31st week, “your baby has finished most of his or her major development,” the Mayo Clinic states. Since the 29th week, it has already been kicking, stretching, and grasping with its hands.

There appear to be no comprehensive statistics on late-term abortions, with many states lumping all abortions after the 16th, 20th, or 21st week together. Sparse reports and anecdotal accounts indicate, however, that abortions sometimes do happen well into the third trimester, when the baby already has more than 50 percent chance of survival.

In fact, a 2015 study found that babies have a chance of survival even at 22 weeks. At the hospitals that actively treated all infants born at that stage, survival rates ranged from about 10-16 percent. About 7-10 percent even survived “without severe neurodevelopmental impairment.”

At 23 weeks, the survival rates jumped to about 30-45 percent at hospitals that treated all or most of such infants.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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