Politics & Policy

House Republicans Hold a Hearing on the Born-Alive Bill

Rep. Steve Scalise on Capitol Hill, June 2018 (File photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Democratic leaders refuse to consider legislation requiring medical care for infants born after attempted abortions.

Washington, D.C. — More than two dozen Republican congressmen gathered in the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon to host the minority’s first hearing this Congress before a full crowd of observers, convening a panel of experts to discuss the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Representative Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) introduced the bill in the House in early February, and Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) introduced it in the Senate, on the heels of comments from Virginia governor Ralph Northam suggesting that in some cases infants could be left to die from lack of medical care when delivered alive after an attempted abortion procedure.

Unlike the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002 — and which defined as legal “persons” infants born alive after attempted abortions — this bill would create criminal penalties for doctors who allow born-alive infants to die rather than providing them with medical care. The born-alive bill mandates that newborns delivered in abortion clinics be transported to a hospital and that health-care practitioners report violations of the law. It also grants the woman on whom the abortion is performed civil cause of action against the abortionist and protects her from prosecution.

When the bill came to the floor in the Senate in late February, 44 Democrats blocked it, claiming that the legislation would “unnecessarily restrict doctors from making case-by-case decisions about what is best for infants and mothers.” Some opponents of the bill have suggested that the legislation would compel doctors to perform unnecessary procedures on premature or sick infants.

To the contrary, the bill doesn’t mandate any particular standard of care; it merely requires that physicians “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” In other words, “unwanted” infants must be treated the same way as any other newborn of the same age and health condition.

And yet, with the exception of three Democratic senators, the party united to ensure that the legislation wouldn’t pass the Senate earlier this year. In the House, meanwhile, Democratic leadership has blocked no fewer than 80 Republican requests to bring the born-alive bill to the floor, preferring instead to pretend that the legislation doesn’t exist.

In early April, House minority whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) filed a discharge petition, which, if signed by a majority of members, would allow the GOP to override Democratic obstruction and bring the bill for a vote. That petition currently stands at 201 signatures, with only three Democrats on board: Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Ben McAdams of Utah, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

“The way to stand up for these babies who are born alive outside the womb is to ask your member of Congress to sign the discharge petition so we can pass the Born-Alive Act and get it signed into law by President Trump,” Scalise said at the hearing.

Bringing attention to the bill and the petition, despite Democratic objections, was the purpose of today’s hearing. Scalise chaired the hearing and told the crowd that, even though more formal committee rooms were standing open and unused elsewhere in the Capitol building, House speaker Nancy Pelosi had denied GOP requests to use those spaces.

The panel of experts featured Dr. Robin Pierucci, a clinical neonatologist; Dr. Kathi Aultman, a board-certified OB-GYN, former abortionist, and former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.; Jill Stanek, a nurse; and Tessa Longbons, a research associate at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Several of the panelists emphasized the importance of refuting the notion that the born-alive bill is unnecessary because infants are never left to die. Their experiences suggest otherwise.

Stanek, for instance, related having witnessed a newborn infant left to die after a failed abortion at a hospital near Chicago. “How far will doctors go to comfort themselves for letting abortion survivors die?” she asked rhetorically, before explaining how her hospital later created a “comfort room,” which she described as

a small, nicely decorated room, complete with a first-photo machine, in case parents wanted professional picture taken of their aborted babies; baptismal supplies, in case they wanted their aborted babies baptized; and a foot-printer and baby bracelets in case they wanted keepsakes of their aborted baby.

Aultman noted that, while abortion-rights supporters claim that abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation occur only in medical emergencies, a nurse named Julie Wilkinson, who assisted late-term abortionist Warren Hern performing abortions through 26 weeks’ gestation, recently told her that “the vast majority of the abortions he performed were done for convenience, not for fetal anomalies or maternal-health problems.”

Longbons cited Centers for Disease Control data suggesting that at least 143 newborn infants died after attempted abortions over a twelve-year period from 2003 to 2014, a statistic that the CDC acknowledged likely was an underestimate. Currently, only two-thirds of states have laws protecting born-alive infants. Fourteen states have considered legislation creating or strengthening those protections this year; in only five states, bills were passed by the legislature, and only two of those five were signed into law.

“It is time for Speaker Pelosi to stop blocking protections for born-alive babies. It’s time to allow a vote on this vital bill,” said Representative Jackie Walorski (R., Ind.). “This should not be partisan. It’s simply the right thing to do. . . . We’ve got to stand together against this radical and inhumane agenda.”

But even though more than three-quarters of voters, including 70 percent of Democrats, say they support the born-alive bill, Democratic leadership almost certainly won’t consider the legislation this Congress — unless 15 more members sign the discharge petition and force the issue.

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