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 “born alive” 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. (Canady’s statement was published in the May, 2000 issue of NRL News, page 4, and on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/federal/bornaliveinfants/canady.)
Nurses Testify About “Live Birth Abortions”
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 birth abortions” 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 birth abortion” 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.
“It 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.” She said that some such babies were taken to a “soiled utility room” to die.
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, “I happened to walk into a >soiled utility room’ 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. “I 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 cerebral palsy.”
NARAL Attacks Bill
During the hearing, NARAL distributed a press release attacking the bill, headlined, “Roe v. Wade Faces Renewed Assault in House.” The statement characterized the bill as an “anti-choice assault” on “the basic tenets of Roe v. Wade.”
“The 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/uploads/bornaliveinfants/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 ‘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’). 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/bornaliveinfants/lettertocongress.]
Arguments similar to NARAL’s were voiced by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), who told the subcommittee, “This 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, “a 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 body.”
[Rep. Jones’ 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 think there’s 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.
“What 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 Court’s 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 at all,” Canady said.
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 result.
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 website.