Pro-life advocates in the U.S. Senate will try again Feb. 24 to gain passage of protections for unborn babies late in their mothers’ pregnancies and newborns who survive abortions — something they have been unable to do the last two years.
The Senate will seek to bring the measures — the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — to the floor for a vote on final passage. Supporters will need 60 votes to invoke cloture, as the procedural move is known, and proceed to a roll call on approval of the bills. The Senate failed to invoke cloture on the pain-capable proposal in 2018 and the born-alive measure in 2019.
The pain-capable bill would ban abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb can experience pain by that point in gestation. The other proposal would require health care for a baby born alive during an abortion.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore expressed gratitude for the Senate’s intention to vote on “critical bills that meet the basic responsibility of government — to protect human life.”
“No nation can seriously call itself humane while its law leaves vulnerable children, both unborn and born, exposed to the neglectful cruelty of the abortion industry,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments. “It’s well past time that our laws catch up and recognize the dignity of life in the womb.”
The ERLC “will continue working and praying for the votes to end these abhorrent practices as well as to disrupt the abortion lobby’s hold on too many of our nation’s elected officials.”
In 2018, the Senate voted 51-46 to bring the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act to the floor but fell short of the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. The House of Representatives had approved its version of the legislation in 2017.
The Senate also failed in a 53-44 vote in February 2019 to invoke cloture on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
Even if the Senate were to invoke cloture on both bills, they would likely be dead on arrival in the House, where the Democratic majority overwhelmingly opposes the measures. Republicans in the House repeatedly sought to bring the born-alive proposal to the floor for a vote last year to no avail.
If the bills somehow reached his desk, President Donald Trump would be expected to sign both into law. Trump endorsed the pain-capable proposal during his State of the Union address Feb. 4.
Advocates for the pain-capable ban — sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Southern Baptist — point out the United States remains among only seven countries in the world that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The other six from among 198 countries are Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.
At least 275 clinics perform abortions past 20 weeks in the United States, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Abortion doctors often use a technique known as dismemberment or “dilation and extraction” abortion from about 14 weeks of pregnancy into the third trimester, according to NRLC. In the method, a doctor uses instruments such as forceps, tongs, clamps or scissors to cut off or rip off parts of an unborn baby or crush the child’s body.
While efforts at the federal level have been unsuccessful, 16 states have enacted pain-capable abortion bans based on its model, according to NRLC. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho’s law in 2015. Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi and Missouri have passed similar measures, according to Graham’s office.
Democratic opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in both the House and Senate has made members of the party vulnerable to understandable charges of supporting infanticide. The bill not only says a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion is a “legal person” deserving protection, but it mandates a health-care provider give the same degree of care offered “any other baby born alive at the same gestational age.”
While some abortion-rights advocates have denied babies are born alive during abortions, reports of permitting children who survive abortions to die without care date back at least 20 years, when nurses reported a method known as live-birth abortion was being used in at least one hospital in Chicago. The practice resulted in surviving babies being left unattended to die.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the born-alive bill Feb. 11, the same day Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky initiated the process of bringing the proposal up for a cloture vote.
At the hearing, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., the bill’s sponsor, said it “isn’t a debate about third-trimester, or second-trimester, or first-trimester abortion. This hearing is about making sure that every newborn baby has a fighting chance — whether she’s born in a labor and delivery ward or whether she’s born in an abortion clinic.”
Unlike the new bill, Democrats did not block similar legislation that gained approval in 2002. The Senate passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act by unanimous consent, and the House of Representatives approved it by voice vote. The measure, signed into law by President George W. Bush, clarified a newborn child — “at any stage of development” and fully outside the womb — is a person to be protected under federal law.
The 2002 law does not adequately protect children who survive an abortion, supporters of the new proposal contend. The new legislation makes specific requirements of health-care providers and calls for penalties not in the 2002 measure. A violation of the measure could result in a fine and/or a prison sentence of as many as five years.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.