Senate Passes Born-Alive Infants Protection Act


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on July 18 gave final congressional approval to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (H.R. 2175).

The bill would guarantee that live-born infants are afforded full legal rights under federal law, regardless of their stage of development or whether their live births occurred during an abortion.

When the legislation was originally introduced in 2000 by Congressman Charles Canady (R-Fl.) (since retired), it was attacked by some pro-abortion groups, but they later muted their criticism. The bill passed the House 380-15 on September 26, 2000, but it was killed in the Senate by anonymous objection at the end of the 2000 session.

The legislation was reintroduced in the current Congress by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). It had passed the House on March 12 by a voice vote, and on July 18 cleared the Senate by unanimous consent.

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which worked for over two years in support of the legislation, welcomed the action.

“Some newborn infants, especially those who are born alive during abortions, have been treated as non-persons,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “This bill says that every infant born alive, even during an abortion and even if premature, is a full legal person under federal law.”

In a March 12 statement, the Bush Administration said that it “strongly supports” the bill, which “would ensure that infants who are born alive, at any stage of development, are individual human beings who are entitled to the full protections of the law,” and “would provide guaranteed legal protection whether or not the infant’s delivery was natural or the result of an abortion.”

Babies whose lungs are insufficiently developed to permit sustained survival are often spontaneously delivered alive, and may live for hours or days. Others are delivered alive during attempted late-term abortions or even as a method of late-term abortion.

The bill would 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.

Nevertheless, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) attacked the bill after its original introduction in 2000. 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 was supported by lawmakers who take different 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].”

A letter from NRLC to the Senate explaining the necessity for the bill, a copy of the official March 12 Bush Administration statement on the bill, and other documents on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act are posted on the NRLC website at http://www.nrlc.org/federal/bornaliveinfants

The report of the House Judiciary Committee on the bill is posted at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/R?cp107:FLD010:@1(hr186):