Bill to Protect
Born-Alive Infants Draws Fire
From NARAL, But Support from Key Committee
By NRLC Federal Legislative Office
WASHINGTON (July 31, 2000)
A bill to protect the right to life of infants who are born alive B
including those born alive during attempted abortions -- has drawn a harsh attack from the National
Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL).
But early indications are that many pro-abortion
members of Congress may be reluctant to oppose the measure, the Born-Alive
Infants Protection Act (H.R. 4292). On
July 26, the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a vote of 22 to 1.
The full House may act on the bill in September.
The bill, backed by NRLC, was introduced by
Congressman Charles Canady (R-Fl.) on April 13.
The bill would establish, for federal law purposes,
that an infant is "born alive"
if she has undergone "complete
expulsion or extraction from its mother . . . at any stage of development,"
and displays heartbeat, respiration, or movements of voluntary muscles.
The bill would also establish that, in federal law,
the legal term "person"
and equivalent terms "shall
include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at
any stage of development."
The definition of
in the bill is a traditional standard, which most states follow in their own
laws. However, "recent
changes in the legal and cultural landscape appear to have brought this
well-settled principle into question," Canady has said when he introduced the bill.
statement was published in the May, 2000 issue of NRL
News, page 4, and on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/Federal/Born_Alive_Infants/canady.html.)
On July 20, the House Judiciary Constitution
Subcommittee, which Canady chairs, held a public hearing on the bill.
Among the witnesses were two nurses who said they had observed
live-born babies who were left to die following "live
performed at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
The nurses described abortions involving unborn
babies from 16 to 23 weeks prenatal development. One of the nurses, Jill Stanek, said that a "live
is performed by using a drug to cause the cervix (the opening to the womb) to
dilate, after which "the
small, preterm baby drops out of the uterus, oftentimes alive." She said that such abortions sometimes were performed
to kill babies who had Down's Syndrome and spina bifida, neither of which
is itself usually a lethal condition.
is not uncommon for one of these live aborted babies to linger for an hour or
two or even longer,"
she explained. "One
of them once lived for almost eight hours."
said that some such babies were taken to a "soiled
A former nurse at the same facility, Allison Baker,
testified that she personally witnessed three babies who had been born alive
during such abortions.
On the first occasion,
happened to walk into a >soiled
and saw, lying on a medical counter, a [22-week] fetus, naked, exposed and
breathing, moving its arms and legs. The
fetus was visibly alive, and was gasping for breath. . . . I did wrap the
fetus and place him in a warmer and for 22 hours he maintained a heartbeat, and then finally
expired," she said.
Also testifying in support of the bill was Gianna
Jessen, who survived an attempted abortion 23 years ago.
A saline solution was injected into the womb of
Jessen's mother, who was seven months pregnant.
remained in the solution for approximately 18
hours and was delivered alive on April 6, 1977, at 6:00 a.m. in a
California abortion clinic,"
Jessen said. "I
should be blind, burned -- I should be dead. And yet, I
live. Due to lack of oxygen supply during the abortion, I live with
During the hearing, NARAL distributed a press release
attacking the bill, headlined, "Roe
v. Wade Faces Renewed Assault in House."
statement characterized the bill as an "anti-choice
basic tenets of Roe v. Wade."
Act would effectively grant legal personhood to a pre-viable fetus -- in direct conflict with Roe [v.
Wade] -- and would inappropriately inject prosecutors and lawmakers into
the medical decision-making process,"
NARAL said. (The NARAL release is
posted on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/Federal/Born_Alive_Infants/naralbornalive.PDF.)
In a subsequent letter to Judiciary Committee
members, NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson commented, "Roe v. Wade dealt only with the constitutional status of the
fetus.' There is nothing in Roe
to support the claim that infants who are born
alive may be considered anything less than legal persons, regardless of
their stage of lung development (i.e., 'viability'). But apparently NARAL believes that a baby who is entirely
outside the mother and breathing can still be considered a 'fetus'
and a non-person, if someone deems that infant to be 'non-viable.'"
[The NRLC letter is posted on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/Federal/Born_Alive_Infants/lettertocongress.htm.]
Arguments similar to NARAL's
were voiced by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), who told the subcommittee,
bill blatantly defines viability, a direct contravention of Roe
v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, the last as recent as three
weeks ago. This definition
applies to all stages of prenatal
development, including pre-viable fetuses, under any
federal law, regulation, ruling or interpretation."
For example, Jones said,
physician at a military hospital who performs an abortion . . . could be
prosecuted for murder under federal criminal law if that physician does not
take extraordinary and, possibly, medically inappropriate measures to
resuscitate the fetus should the fetus' final heartbeat pulse outside the woman's
full written testimony is available at the House Judiciary Committee website www.house.gov/judiciary/jone0720.htm.]
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
-- a subcommittee member who described himself "as pro-choice as anybody on Earth"
-- disputed those positions. He
argued that under long-established legal principles, "if
an abortion is performed, or a natural birth occurred, at any age, [even]
three months, and the product of that was living outside the mother, and
somebody came and shot him, I don't
any doubt that person would be prosecuted for murder."
When the full committee met to consider the bill on
July 26, Canady emphasized that the Supreme Court's
June 28 ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart
underscores the need for the legislation.
was described in Roe v. Wade as a right to abort unborn children has now been extended by the Court
to include the violent destruction of partially-born
children just inches from birth. The logical implications of the Carhart
holding are both obvious and disturbing. Consider what the Carhart
decision means for a child who survives a botched abortion and is born alive.
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 care or to any care
Nadler and other pro-abortion members of the
committee expressed disagreement with Canady's
argument. Nadler said that he did
not agree that the "logic"
of the Stenberg ruling would lead to the killing of born-alive infants, and
said he considered it a "slander"
to suggest that he or other supporters of the ruling would favor such a
In apparent reference to the NARAL position, Nadler
said, "There is some paranoia that the real purpose of this
bill . . is to try to undermine the Carhart
decision and by a back door, try to outlaw so-called partial-birth abortions."
Nadler and seven other pro-abortion Democrats on the
committee then joined all of the Republicans present in voting to approve the
bill. Only pro-abortion Rep. Mel
Watt (D-NC) voted against the bill, saying there had been insufficient time to
study how it would affect the application of various federal laws.
However, seven other pro-abortion Democrats on the committee did not show
up for the vote, and it is not yet clear how much resistance the bill will meet
from pro-abortion lawmakers if it reaches the House floor.
Further information on this issue, including the text
of the bill, NRLC's letter in support of the bill, and the NARAL
statement opposing the bill, is available elsewhere in this section of the NRLC