Republicans’ effort to outlaw infanticide of babies born after botched abortions collapsed Monday, falling victim to a Democrat-led filibuster in what could be Congress’s only chance to vote on the hot-button issue this year.
The GOP-led Senate only mustered 53 votes — seven shy of the 60 needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster. Three Democrats crossed the aisle to back the bill, while three Republicans missed the vote.
Backers said they were driven to act by recent state laws and bills they said would allow abortions up to the point of birth — and, in at least the case of one failed piece of legislation in Virginia, would have allowed a child born despite an attempted abortion to be left to die.
“It isn’t about new restrictions on abortion. It isn’t about changing the options available to women. It’s just about recognizing that a newborn baby is a newborn baby. Period,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. He said it made him “uneasy” that such legislation was even considered controversial.
Yet controversial it was.
Pro-choice activists said there was no need for the legislation, and cast it as an attempt to limit women’s abortion choices.
Senate Democrats said the bill was intended to shut down abortion clinics by making them afraid of crossing lines.
“The bill is solely meant to intimidate doctors and restrict patients’ access to care and has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with protecting children,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on the chamber floor.
Dubbed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, the bill would have required that doctors care for a newborn baby who survived an abortion the same way they care for other newborns. If doctors failed to give medical care to a living baby, they would face criminal penalties.
Sen. Ben Sasse, the chief sponsor, said the fierce pushback from pro-choice activists was revealing.
“Planned Parenthood and others refuse to draw a line between abortion and infanticide,” the Nebraska Republican said. “That’s what their lobbying the last week has shown. That should tell us something about what these groups are really about.”
At pro-choice groups’ urging, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month signed a bill repealing a previous law that required a second doctor to be on hand for late-term abortions, so as to provide care in case an attempted abortion instead turns into a live birth.
That law also repealed a part of the law that declared such a child “should be afforded immediate legal protection under the laws of the State of New York.”
Meanwhile in Virginia, a Democratic state delegate offered legislation to repeal similar restrictions on late-term abortions. She sparked controversy when, at a legislative hearing, she said a woman in labor and about to give birth could still have an abortion under her bill.
Gov. Ralph Northam compounded the issue, saying a baby born after an attempted abortion would only be resuscitated “if that’s what the mother and the family desired.”
Pro-life advocates say those state proposals have helped shift public opinion in their direction.
A new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, published Monday, revealed the number of pro-life Democrats jumped from 20 percent of the party in January to 34 percent this month.
“There has been a significant increase in the proportion of Americans who see themselves as pro-life and an equally notable decline in those who describe themselves as pro-choice,” said Barbara Carvalho, director of Marist Poll.
But Monday’s Senate vote is likely to be the only roll call vote in Congress this year on the issue.
Republicans have repeatedly tried to use parliamentary tactics to force a vote in the Democrat-controlled House, but have been batted back each time.
The three Democrats who broke with their party in the Senate were Sens. Joe Manchin III, of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Doug Jones of Alabama.
The U.S. is one of only seven countries that permits abortions past 20 weeks, according to Mr. McConnell.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, vowed to make this vote a 2020 issue.
“For the Democrats, a newborn slated for extermination before birth is fair game even after birth. This is infanticide. The only thing Americans can do to protect these most vulnerable babies is to vote out of office those who fail to protect them,” Father Pavone said.
⦁ Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.