Letter from NRLC to U.S. Senate on Born-Alive Infants Protection Act


The following letter was sent to members of the U.S. Senate on June 14, 2001.

Re: Born-Alive Infants Protection Act

Dear Senator:

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) urges you to cosponsor the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which is being introduced today by Senator Santorum, with a companion bill to be introduced by Congressman Steve Chabot, Congresswoman Melissa Hart, and Congresswoman Sue Wilkins Myrick. Enactment of this bill is necessary to ensure that all infants who are born alive are treated as legal persons for purposes of federal law.

Babies whose lungs are insufficiently developed to permit sustained survival are often spontaneously delivered alive, and may live for hours or days. Others are born alive following deliveries induced for medical reasons, or following attempted abortions. As Congressman Chabot explained in a June 12 “Dear Colleague” letter, “It has long been accepted as a legal principle that infants who are born alive are persons who are entitled to the protections of the law. But the corrupting influence of the seemingly limitless right to an abortion has brought this well-settled legal principle into question. Under the logic of recent court decisions, once a child is marked for abortion, it may become irrelevant whether that child emerges from the mother’s womb as a live baby.”

In support of Mr. Chabot’s observation, we cite the June 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart, in which a five-justice majority expanded the so-called “right to abortion” created in Roe v. Wade to cover partial-birth abortion, in which the baby is only inches from complete live birth when she is killed. Moreover, in July 2000 a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit ruled in Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey v. Farmer that the abortion method banned by New Jersey could not possibly be a “partial birth” because “[a] woman seeking an abortion is plainly not seeking to give birth.” By this logic, even a living survivor of an abortion could be killed with impunity, since no true “birth” can result if an abortion is intended.

In view of such developments, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act is proposed to codify (for federal law purposes only) the traditional definition of “born alive” that is already found in the laws of most states: complete expulsion from the mother, accompanied by heartbeat, respiration, and/or voluntary movements. The bill would also codify the traditional principle that the legal term “person” and other equivalent terms “shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”

The bill defines a child as “born alive” only if it displays the specified vital sign(s) after “the complete expulsion or extraction from his or her mother” — in other words, after pregnancy has ended. Therefore, the bill does not restrict any method of abortion. Nevertheless, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) attacked the bill after its original introduction in the 106th Congress. In a July 20, 2000 statement, NARAL said the bill would “effectively grant legal personhood to a pre-viable fetus — in direct conflict with Roe [v. Wade].”

In reality, of course, Roe v. Wade dealt only with the constitutional status of the “unborn 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”). The bill is worthy of support by those who take differing positions regarding the constitutional or statutory rights of unborn children, because it explicitly leaves those as open questions by incorporating a rule of construction that says nothing in the bill “shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being ‘born alive’ as defined [in the bill].”

NRLC urges you to support enactment of this necessary legislation to affirm the legal personhood of all live-born infants, before that principle is further eroded.

Sincerely,

Douglas Johnson

NRLC Legislative Director