Re: Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (H.R. 4292)
July 22, 2000
Dear Member of Congress:
The National Right to Life Committee urges your support for The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (H.R. 4292). 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 Charles Canady noted when he introduced the bill on April 13, “It has long been accepted as a legal principle that infants who are born alive are persons and are entitled to the protections of the law, and that a live birth has occurred whenever an infant is expelled from her mother’s body and displays any of several specific signs of life — breathing, heartbeat, and/or definite movements of voluntary muscles. . . . But recent changes in the legal and cultural landscape appear to have brought this well-settled principle into question.”
Therefore, H.R. 4292 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 equivalent terms “shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”
Contrary to some misunderstandings or misrepresentations, the bill does nothing to change the standard of care for medical treatment of premature infants. Physicians in most states have long operated under definitions of “born alive” or “live birth” that are identical or nearly identical to those contained in H.R. 4292. In a given case, two neonatologists may disagree as to whether a given medical treatment will be efficacious or futile, but both surely agree that they are discussing the prognosis of a human being who has legal rights — and if, as they argue regarding the case, a madman enters the room and kills the baby with a hammer, both doctors will recognize that they have witnessed a homicide.
The bill defines a child as “born alive” only if it displays the specified vital sign(s) after “the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother” – in other words, after pregnancy has ended. Therefore, the bill has no application to any method of abortion. The bill does, however, repudiate the position of those who implicitly or explicitly argue that infants who are born alive as the result of attempted abortions can be treated as non-persons.
It is noteworthy that the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), in a July 20 statement attacking the bill, said it 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”). 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.”
At a July 20 hearing on the bill before the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, Congressman Jerrold Nadler – who described himself “as pro-choice as anybody on Earth” – vigorously challenged the position set forth in the NARAL statement. 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.”
Mr. Nadler went on to suggest that the bill does “nothing new” and therefore may be “unnecessary.” But we believe the evidence presented to the subcommittee, and the reaction of groups such as NARAL to the plain language of the bill, demonstrate the necessity of nailing down the legal personhood of live-born infants before the principle is further eroded by those who wish to expand the right to kill even beyond the line of full birth.