An effort by Senate Republicans to enhance protections for newborns who survive abortions, spurred by New York and Virginia bills making it easier to perform late-term procedures, was blocked Monday by Democrats.
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, asked for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to be approved by unanimous consent after an outcry over comments last week by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam decried on the right as pro-infanticide.
“There are only two sides of the debate on the floor debate tonight: You’re either for babies, or you’re defending infanticide,” said Mr. Sasse in his floor speech. “That is actually what the legislation is that’s before us.”
Disagreeing was Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, who objected to the request for unanimous consent, effectively derailing the bill. Forty Republicans and no Democrats cosponsored Senate Bill 130.
“We have laws against infanticide in this country,” Ms. Murray said. “This is a gross misinterpretation of the actual language of the bill that is being asked to be considered and therefore I object.”
Mr. Sasse, who has also sought to use the Rule 14 process to expedite the legislation, said the issue had taken on new urgency as state Democrats push to remove obstacles to third-trimester abortions.
Mr. Northam, a Democrat and former pediatrician, horrified pro-life advocates when he indicated in a radio interview last week that under a Virginia bill, called the Repeal Act, the fate of an infant who survived an abortion would be decided by the doctor and mother.
“So in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered,” said Mr. Northam. “The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
The bill was defeated last week by state Republicans on a party-line subcommittee vote after the sponsor, Democratic Del. Kathy Tran, testified that the measure would allow abortions after labor had begun.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill two weeks ago clearing the path for late-term abortions, which included removing the death of the unborn from the criminal code. Other bills expanding abortion access are pending in New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont.
State Democrats have argued that such legislation is needed to “codify” the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the face of a threat from jurists appointed by President Trump, but the legislators have also been accused of overreaching, seeking to go beyond Roe and remove third-trimester limits supported by most Americans.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, blasted the Sasse bill as “just the latest attack in the decades-long Republican effort to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own body.”
“For example, imagine being pregnant and learning that your baby has a terminal condition,” Ms. Feinstein said in a statement. “This bill would limit that mother’s decisions and require her doctor to administer unwanted medical care that could prolong her pain and suffering—even putting her health and safety at risk.”
The Sasse bill would require medical practitioners caring for infants born alive after botched abortions to “exercise the same degree of professional skill and care to protect the newborn as would be offered to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”
“It also requires that the living child, after appropriate care has been given, be immediately transported and admitted to a hospital,” said the Sasse press release. “Currently federal law does not adequately protect a born child who survives an abortion.”
Under his bill, medical professionals could be subject to criminal penalties including fines and up to five years’ prison. The mother would be exempt from prosecution.
The bill builds on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which did pass the Senate by unanimous consent.
“Frankly, it is harrowing that this legislation is necessary,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It was even more disturbing when, last week, a Democrat governor was unable to clearly and simply state that these newborn babies have human rights that must be respected.”
Republicans said they would keep pressing for the bill, while pro-life groups denounced Democrats for standing in the way of the legislation.
“Senate Democrats had the chance today to prove they are not the party of infanticide, and instead they doubled down on extremism,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
March for Life Action President Tom McClusky said most Americans believe abortion should be limited to the first trimester at most, and called for a roll-call vote “so that constituents know exactly where their elected officials stand on protecting the fundamental right to life.”