Statement by Congressman Charles Canady on introduction of Born-Alive Infants Protection Act


WASHINGTON–Congressman Charles T. Canady (R-Fl.) on April 13 introduced the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2000” (HR 4292), legislation to ensure that all infants who are born alive are treated as persons for purposes of federal law. The bill has been endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee.

Canady, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, issued the following statement:

“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. Many states have statutes that, with some variations, explicitly enshrine this principle as a matter of state law, and some federal courts have recognized the principle in interpreting federal criminal laws.

“But recent changes in the legal and cultural landscape appear to have brought this well-settled principle into question. The Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for example, reaffirmed the right of a woman to abort her unborn child, and adhered to the notion that the government’s interest in protecting the unborn child is related to ‘viability,’ or the point at which an unborn child can survive independently of the mother, with or without medical assistance.

“The Court’s reliance upon the viability concept has caused some to wrongly conclude that even infants who have been born alive are not persons if they are not yet ‘viable,’ or were ‘marked’ for abortion. Yet, particularly after the halfway point of pregnancy, many infants are born alive at 20 to 22 weeks and survive for hours, even though their lung capacity does not permit sustained survival. Infants are also born alive at 23 weeks and have a 39% chance of sustained survival, and at 24 weeks a greater than 50% chance of sustained survival, with the odds improving all of the time. Most of these premature live births occur spontaneously, but some occur during attempted abortions.

“The principle that born-alive infants are entitled to the protection of the law is being questioned at one of America’s most prestigious universities. Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer argues that parents should have the option to kill disabled or unhealthy newborn babies for a certain period after birth. According to Professor Singer, ‘a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to live as others.’ This is based on Professor Singer’s view that the life of a newborn baby is ‘of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc.’ According to Professor Singer, ‘killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.’

“If ideas such as these are permitted to go unchecked, the result will be legal and moral confusion as to the status of newborn infants that are on the outskirts of viability or were marked for abortion. Evidence of this confusion can be illustrated by events that happened just this week in Professor Singer’s native country of Australia. On April 10, 2000, in Sydney, Australia, a baby survived an abortion and lived for 80 minutes while hospital staff waited for the baby to die. When the midwife nurse called the abortion doctor (who was not present) to inform him that the baby had survived, he responded, ‘So?’ The nurse then did what she could to make the baby comfortable, covering her with a blanket to keep her warm until her breathing and heartbeat slowed and she died.

“The coroner who investigated this incident condemned the actions of the abortion doctor, stating that ‘[t]he [baby] having been born alive deserved all the dignity, respect and value that our society places on human life. … The fact that her birth was unexpected and not the desired outcome of the [abortion] should not result in her … being perceived as less than a complete human being.’

“Noting that the old, infirm, sick and terminally ill are all entitled to proper medical and palliative care and attention, the coroner stated that ‘newly born unwanted and premature babies should have the same rights. The fact that [the baby’s] death was inevitable should not affect her entitlement to such care and attention.’

“The purpose of this bill is to repudiate the pernicious ideas that result in tragedies such as this and to firmly establish that, for purposes of federal law, an infant who is completely expelled or extracted from her mother and who is alive is, indeed, a person under the law-regardless of whether or not her lung development is believed to be, or is in fact, sufficient to permit long-term survival, and regardless of whether the baby survived an abortion.

“The bill would not mandate medical treatment where none is currently indicated. Nothing in the bill would alter the existing standard of medical care. While there is debate about whether or not to aggressively treat premature infants below a certain birth weight, this is a dispute about medical efficacy, not regarding legal status. Medical authorities who argue that treatment below a given birth weight is futile are not arguing that these low-birth weight infants are non-persons, or that it would be legally permissible to dispatch them with hammer blows to the skull.

“The bill would also have no impact on any method of abortion. Under the Act, an infant will be considered to have been born alive if she is completely extracted or expelled from her mother and breathes, has a beating heart, a pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of the voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the baby was born as a result of natural or induced labor, caesarean section, or induced abortion.”