Politics & Policy

Republican Senator Kevin Cramer Introduces New Pro-Life Bill

Rep. Kevin Cramer speaks at the 2018 North Dakota Republican Party Convention (Dan Koeck/Reuters)
The Patient Rights Act aims to expose the potential consequences of the logic behind permissive abortion laws.

Washington — Today Senator Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) will introduce the Patient Rights Act (PRA), a bill aimed at exposing the potential consequences of the logic behind permissive abortion laws.

The legislation, cosponsored by Republican senators Steve Daines of Montana — who serves as the chair of the Senate’s first-ever Pro-Life Caucus, instituted earlier this year — and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, would place additional requirements on health-care providers that receive federal funding “by recognizing the unborn as patients and restricting federal funding to any health care facility that does not protect the lives of all patients (from conception to natural death),” according to a summary of the bill provided exclusively to National Review. Its restrictions would apply to funding for Medicaid and Medicare, among other programs.

“The unborn deserve the same rights as any other human being,” Cramer told National Review via email. “All patients — from the unborn to the elderly — are given the unalienable right to life, but our current system too often denies them of it. Organizations that do not honor the right to life at any of its stages do not deserve taxpayer funds, and this bill reflects that truth.”

The PRA would mandate that health-care practitioners exercise “the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of any patient as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to a patient in a different state of functionality, development, or degree of dependence.”

This language is similar to that of a bill introduced earlier this term by Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would’ve required doctors to give newborns that survived a botched abortion procedure “the same degree of care as reasonably provided to another child born alive at the same gestational age.” Sasse’s bill was defeated in February after 44 Democrats opposed it, claiming it was an unnecessary restriction on abortion — though none of the bill’s language limited abortion procedures or access.

Like Sasse’s bill, this legislation is being introduced in part to draw attention to Democratic efforts to expand access to abortion, even late in pregnancy. Most Democratic politicians running for the 2020 presidential nomination have expressed opposition to abortion restrictions of any kind, and several voted earlier this year against Sasse’s born-alive bill. Meanwhile, in recent weeks, Democratic legislatures in states such as Vermont, Illinois, and Rhode Island have passed bills deeming abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and for any reason, a “fundamental right.” In some states, these bills explicitly provide that embryos and fetuses have no legal rights.

In contrast, Cramer’s new legislation would define “patient” in line with the pro-life movement’s understanding, as persons who are “unborn, newly born, born prematurely, pregnant, elderly, mentally or physically disabled, terminally ill, in a persistent vegetative state, unresponsive or comatose, or otherwise incapable of self-advocacy.” 

The PRA mandates that doctors not intentionally end the life of any patient through physician-assisted suicide or abortion procedures, with an exception on the latter prohibition for instances when a mother’s life is in danger. It also forbids health-care practitioners from instituting “do-not-resuscitate orders” for patients without obtaining their consent or the consent of the patient’s authorized representative.

To ensure enforcement, the bill would require the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to review federally funded health-care facilities every five years for compliance with the PRA’s provisions, establish a means for confidential reporting of violations, and create a public database so patients can research the record of health-care groups. The legislation also creates a right of civil action for patients and families to sue if a federally funded health-care group fails to respect a patient’s rights.

Because of the complexities of medical care, the bill offers several exceptions. Its requirements do not apply to cases in which a physician withholds life-saving treatment, nutrition, or hydration, as long it isn’t intended to cause the patient’s death and the patient has given informed consent. It also allows for the use of pain-relieving drugs, even if they might increase the risk of death, and medical procedures to prevent the death of a pregnant woman or her unborn child.

According to Cramer’s office, the proposed bill already has support from prominent pro-life lobbying groups the Susan B. Anthony List and the March for Life. It is unclear whether the bill will receive a vote this term, but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in an interview earlier this month that he plans to bring a vote on legislation removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. He also suggested the possibility of a second vote on Sasse’s born-alive bill.

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