Politics & Policy

A Law to Protect Abortion Survivors Shouldn’t Be Necessary, but It Is

Sen. Ben Sasse speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters)
It’s hard to imagine that a bill to ensure a struggling newborn receives medical care would be controversial.

Critics say that the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act is unnecessary. I wish that it were. While it’s hard to imagine many Americans opposing a bill that would ensure that medical provision was administered to a struggling newborn child, many in Washington would prefer that it never be mentioned, because it would protect infants born alive after an attempted abortion.

Even as Americans debate abortion, surely it isn’t too much to expect our government to protect, at minimum, the life of any person once he or she is born. Because no matter how hard some might try, there is simply no logic, even in the abortion lobby’s best talking points, that could begin to justify such callous neglect.

Everyone should recognize that denying basic medical care to born infants is wrong. There is no justification for leaving a child on a table to die. This is why the idea of a medical professional choosing to look away and ignore the cries of an infant child as it lies there gasping for air sends shocks through one’s conscience.

If we take a step back, we realize that this isn’t even about a woman’s so-called right to choose. Taking an infant’s life outside the womb is not abortion. Even so, politicians beholden to the likes of Planned Parenthood resist any consideration of measures, such as this bill, that would protect these innocent children.

Rather than engage the issue on the merits, opponents insist we simply move along. We witnessed as much in the words of Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.) one year ago this month, when she took to the Senate floor to block the unanimous-consent request by Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) on the Born-Alive Act. “We have laws against infanticide in this country,” she said, defending the indefensible by denying that it is even a problem.

And this is how it works. The abortion industry is built on a wholesale denial of the existence of the undesired. To Planned Parenthood, an undesired life is no life at all. So they mask fetal heartbeats by calling them “electrical activity.” And those who confuse abortion with health care do so by masking the dignity of the child in utero by referring to a human fetus as, for example, a “partially organized blob of cells.”

But with this policy now before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, we see that the industry’s denial of life now extends past the first breath of the undesired newborn. Sadly, federal law currently lacks sufficient legal protections for children who survive abortions.

Survivors like Melissa Ohden in Kansas City, Mo., know how critical these medical provisions are. At Meslissa’s seventh month of gestation, her mother elected to have an abortion. Miraculously, Melissa survived. She was delivered alive, set aside, and ignored, to be discarded.

But this was not the end of her story. Melissa is with us today because a few nurses did just what we all would hope — they saw a vulnerable life and intervened to save her.

In 2017, after Melissa wrote about her experience in a book, she heard from a woman who told her she’d been following her pro-life and adoption advocacy for years. “I wondered if you were the baby I remembered from St. Luke’s hospital,” she said. “After reading your book, I know it’s you.” The day of Melissa’s birth, the woman was working in the neonatal intensive-care unit. “I’ll never forget it,” she recounted years later. “This tall blonde nurse had you in her arms and came through the door shouting ‘That darn doctor messed up! She just kept gasping for breath. She just kept gasping so I couldn’t just leave her there to die.’”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, from 2003 to 2014, at least 143 babies died after surviving abortions. In 2017 alone, at least 25 babies across five states were born alive after attempted abortion. The CDC numbers are likely an underestimate because, in the absence of the Born Alive Act, reporting is voluntary.

Beyond the numbers, consider the testimony of those who’ve witnessed failed abortions. Jill Stanek, a registered nurse who now works with the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experience in the labor-and-delivery department at Christ Hospital in Illinois. In her testimony, she recounted how, to her utter and complete shock, she discovered that babies who survived abortions were left to die inside a hospital utility closet. In an obvious conscience-soothing act, the hospital eventually created a “comfort room” where these children were taken to die, causing Stanek to ask herself, “How far will doctors go to comfort themselves by letting abortion survivors die?”

While it’s true that infanticide is illegal in the United States, this does not save infants who find their way into the world after surviving an abortion. Rather, these children are doubly vulnerable, because federal law protects abortion from the standards of medical care applicable to any other procedure, in order to avoid placing an “undue burden” on those who seek the so-called right.

I long for the day when abortion is unthinkable, a deeply unfortunate memory of a bygone age. But even now, two decades into the 21st century, it remains a grave charge against our country that a bill protecting children who survive abortion is politically charged enough to ignore.

Our children deserve better. Age is no marker of dignity. Even the smallest among us are fully deserving of protection from violence.

Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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